Knowledge Distillation between DNN and SNN for Intelligent Sensing Systems on Loihi Chip

Shiya Liu1 and Yang Yi2
1EMD Electronics, 2Virginia Tech


Building accurate and efficient deep neural network (DNN) models for intelligent sensing systems to process data locally is essential. Spiking neural networks (SNNs) have gained significant popularity in recent years because they are more biological-plausible and energy-efficient than DNNs. However, SNNs usually have lower accuracy than DNNs. In this paper, we propose to use SNNs for image sensing applications. Moreover, we introduce the DNN-SNN knowledge distillation algorithm to reduce the accuracy gap between DNNs and SNNs. Our DNN-SNN knowledge distillation improves the accuracy of an SNN by transferring knowledge between a DNN and an SNN. To better transfer the knowledge, our algorithm creates two learning paths from a DNN to an SNN. One path is between the output layer and another path is between the intermediate layer. DNNs use real numbers to propagate information between neurons while SNNs use 1-bit spikes. To empower the communication between DNNs and SNNs, we utilize a decoder to decode spikes into real numbers. Also, our algorithm creates a learning path from an SNN to a DNN. This learning path better adapts the DNN to the SNN by allowing the DNN to learn the knowledge from the SNN. Our SNN models are deployed on Loihi, which is a specialized chip for SNN models. On the MNIST dataset, our SNN models trained by the DNN-SNN knowledge distillation achieve better accuracy than the SNN models on GPU trained by other training algorithms with much lower energy consumption per image.