Publication (Phd Thesis)

Parametric and structural self-adaptation of embedded systems using evolvable hardware

Perea, Rubén Salvador
Embedded systems have traditionally been conceived to be specific-purpose computers with one, fixed computational task for their whole lifetime. Stringent requirements in terms of cost, size and weight forced designers to highly optimise their operation for very specific conditions. However, demands for versatility, more intelligent behaviour and, in summary, an increased computing capability began to clash with these limitations, intensified by the uncertainty associated to the more dynamic operating environments where they were progressively being deployed. This brought as a result an increasing need for systems to respond by themselves to unexpected events at design time, such as: changes in input data characteristics and system environment in general; changes in the computing platform itself, e.g., due to faults and fabrication defects; and changes in functional specifications caused by dynamically changing system objectives. As a consequence, systems complexity is increasing, but in turn, autonomous lifetime adaptation without human intervention is being progressively enabled, allowing them to take their own decisions at run-time. This type of systems is known, in general, as selfadaptive, and are able, among others, of self-configuration, self-optimisation and self-repair. Traditionally, the soft part of a system has mostly been so far the only place to provide systems with some degree of adaptation capabilities. However, the performance to power ratios of software driven devices like microprocessors are not adequate for embedded systems in many situations. In this scenario, the resulting rise in applications complexity is being partly addressed by rising devices complexity in the form of multi and many core devices; but sadly, this keeps on increasing power consumption. Besides, design methodologies have not been improved accordingly to completely leverage the available computational power from all these cores. Altogether, these factors make that the computing demands new applications pose are not being wholly satisfied. The traditional solution to improve performance to power ratios has been the switch to hardware driven specifications, mainly using ASICs. However, their costs are highly prohibitive except for some mass production cases and besidesthe static nature of its structure complicates the solution to the adaptation needs. The advancements in fabrication technologies have made that the once slow, small FPGA used as glue logic in bigger systems, had grown to be a very powerful, reconfigurable computing device with a vast amount of computational logic resources and embedded, hardened signal and general purpose processing cores. Its reconfiguration capabilities have enabled software-like flexibility to be combined with hardware-like computing performance, which has the potential to cause a paradigm shift in computer architecture since hardware cannot be considered as static anymore. This is so, since, as is the case with SRAMbased FPGAs, Dynamic Partial Reconfiguration (DPR) is possible. This means that subsets of the FPGA computational resources can now be changed (reconfigured) at run-time while the rest remains active. Besides, this reconfiguration process can be triggered internally by the device itself. This technological boost in reconfigurable hardware devices is actually covered under the field known as Reconfigurable Computing. One of the most exotic fields of application that Reconfigurable Computing has enabled is the known as Evolvable Hardware (EHW), in which this dissertation is framed. The main idea behind the concept is turning hardware that is adaptable through reconfiguration into an evolvable entity subject to the forces of an evolutionary process, inspired by that of natural, biological species, that guides the direction of change. It is yet another application of the field of Evolutionary Computation (EC), which comprises a set of global optimisation algorithms known as Evolutionary Algorithms (EAs), considered as universal problem solvers. In analogy to the biological process of evolution, in EHW the subject of evolution is a population of circuits that tries to get adapted to its surrounding environment by progressively getting better fitted to it generation after generation. Individuals become circuit configurations representing bitstreams that feature reconfigurable circuit descriptions. By selecting those that behave better, i.e., with a higher fitness value after being evaluated, and using them as parents of the following generation, the EA creates a new offspring population by using so called genetic operators like mutation and recombination. As generations succeed one another, the whole population is expected to approach to the optimum solution to the problem of finding an adequate circuit configuration that fulfils system objectives. The state of reconfiguration technology after Xilinx XC6200 FPGA family was discontinued and replaced by Virtex families in the late 90s, was a major obstacle for advancements in EHW; closed (non publicly known) bitstream formats; dependence on manufacturer tools with highly limiting support of DPR; slow speed of reconfiguration; and random bitstream modifications being potentially hazardous for device integrity, are some of these reasons. However, a proposal in the first 2000s allowed to keep investigating in this field while DPR technology kept maturing, the Virtual Reconfigurable Circuit (VRC). In essence, a VRC in an FPGA is a virtual layer acting as an application specific reconfigurable circuit on top of an FPGA fabric that reduces the complexity of the reconfiguration process and increases its speed (compared to native reconfiguration). It is an array of computational nodes specified using standard HDL descriptions that define ad-hoc reconfigurable resources; routing multiplexers and a set of configurable processing elements, each one containing all the required functions, which are selectable through functionality multiplexers as in microprocessor ALUs. A large register acts as configuration memory, so VRC reconfiguration is very fast given it only involves writing this register, which drives the selection signals of the set of multiplexers. However, large overheads are introduced by this virtual layer; an area overhead due to the simultaneous implementation of every function in every node of the array plus the multiplexers, and a delay overhead due to the multiplexers, which also reduces maximum frequency of operation. The very nature of Evolvable Hardware, able to optimise its own computational behaviour, makes it a good candidate to advance research in self-adaptive systems. Combining a selfreconfigurable computing substrate able to be dynamically changed at run-time with an embedded algorithm that provides a direction for change, can help fulfilling requirements for autonomous lifetime adaptation of FPGA-based embedded systems. The main proposal of this thesis is hence directed to contribute to autonomous self-adaptation of the underlying computational hardware of FPGA-based embedded systems by means of Evolvable Hardware. This is tackled by considering that the computational behaviour of a system can be modified by changing any of its two constituent parts: an underlying hard structure and a set of soft parameters. Two main lines of work derive from this distinction. On one side, parametric self-adaptation and, on the other side, structural self-adaptation. The goal pursued in the case of parametric self-adaptation is the implementation of complex evolutionary optimisation techniques in resource constrained embedded systems for online parameter adaptation of signal processing circuits. The application selected as proof of concept is the optimisation of Discrete Wavelet Transforms (DWT) filters coefficients for very specific types of images, oriented to image compression. Hence, adaptive and improved compression efficiency, as compared to standard techniques, is the required goal of evolution. The main quest lies in reducing the supercomputing resources reported in previous works for the optimisation process in order to make it suitable for embedded systems. Regarding structural self-adaptation, the thesis goal is the implementation of self-adaptive circuits in FPGA-based evolvable systems through an efficient use of native reconfiguration capabilities. In this case, evolution of image processing tasks such as filtering of unknown and changing types of noise and edge detection are the selected proofs of concept. In general, evolving unknown image processing behaviours (within a certain complexity range) at design time is the required goal. In this case, the mission of the proposal is the incorporation of DPR in EHW to evolve a systolic array architecture adaptable through reconfiguration whose evolvability had not been previously checked. In order to achieve the two stated goals, this thesis originally proposes an evolvable platform that integrates an Adaptation Engine (AE), a Reconfiguration Engine (RE) and an adaptable Computing Engine (CE). In the case of parametric adaptation, the proposed platform is characterised by: • a CE featuring a DWT hardware processing core adaptable through reconfigurable registers that holds wavelet filters coefficients • an evolutionary algorithm as AE that searches for candidate wavelet filters through a parametric optimisation process specifically developed for systems featured by scarce computing resources • a new, simplified mutation operator for the selected EA, that together with a fast evaluation mechanism of candidate wavelet filters derived from existing literature, assures the feasibility of the evolutionary search involved in wavelets adaptation In the case of structural adaptation, the platform proposal takes the form of: • a CE based on a reconfigurable 2D systolic array template composed of reconfigurable processing nodes • an evolutionary algorithm as AE that searches for candidate configurations of the array using a set of computational functionalities for the nodes available in a run time accessible library • a hardware RE that exploits native DPR capabilities of FPGAs and makes an efficient use of the available reconfigurable resources of the device to change the behaviour of the CE at run time • a library of reconfigurable processing elements featured by position-independent partial bitstreams used as the set of available configurations for the processing nodes of the array Main contributions of this thesis can be summarised in the following list. • An FPGA-based evolvable platform for parametric and structural self-adaptation of embedded systems composed of a Computing Engine, an evolutionary Adaptation Engine and a Reconfiguration Engine. This platform is further developed and tailored for both parametric and structural self-adaptation. • Regarding parametric self-adaptation, main contributions are: – A CE adaptable through reconfigurable registers that enables parametric adaptation of the coefficients of an adaptive hardware implementation of a DWT core. – An AE based on an Evolutionary Algorithm specifically developed for numerical optimisation applied to wavelet filter coefficients in resource constrained embedded systems. – A run-time self-adaptive DWT IP core for embedded systems that allows for online optimisation of transform performance for image compression for specific deployment environments characterised by different types of input signals. – A software model and hardware implementation of a tool for the automatic, evolutionary construction of custom wavelet transforms. • Lastly, regarding structural self-adaptation, main contributions are: – A CE adaptable through native FPGA fabric reconfiguration featured by a two dimensional systolic array template of reconfigurable processing nodes. Different processing behaviours can be automatically mapped in the array by using a library of simple reconfigurable processing elements. – Definition of a library of such processing elements suited for autonomous runtime synthesis of different image processing tasks. – Efficient incorporation of DPR in EHW systems, overcoming main drawbacks from the previous approach of virtual reconfigurable circuits. Implementation details for both approaches are also originally compared in this work. – A fault tolerant, self-healing platform that enables online functional recovery in hazardous environments. The platform has been characterised from a fault tolerance perspective: fault models at FPGA CLB level and processing elements level are proposed, and using the RE, a systematic fault analysis for one fault in every processing element and for two accumulated faults is done. – A dynamic filtering quality platform that permits on-line adaptation to different types of noise and different computing behaviours considering the available computing resources. On one side, non-destructive filters are evolved, enabling scalable cascaded filtering schemes; and on the other, size-scalable filters are also evolved considering dynamically changing computational filtering requirements. This dissertation is organized in four parts and nine chapters. First part contains chapter 1, the introduction to and motivation of this PhD work. Following, the reference framework in which this dissertation is framed is analysed in the second part: chapter 2 features an introduction to the notions of self-adaptation and autonomic computing as a more general research field to the very specific one of this work; chapter 3 introduces evolutionary computation as the technique to drive adaptation; chapter 4 analyses platforms for reconfigurable computing as the technology to hold self-adaptive hardware; and finally chapter 5 defines, classifies and surveys the field of Evolvable Hardware. Third part of the work follows, which contains the proposal, development and results obtained: while chapter 6 contains an statement of the thesis goals and the description of the proposal as a whole, chapters 7 and 8 address parametric and structural self-adaptation, respectively. Finally, chapter 9 in part 4 concludes the work and describes future research paths.
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Type of Publication:
Phd Thesis
Type of Publication:
PhD Thesis