Value-Driven Mixed-Precision Quantization for Patch-Based Inference on Microcontrollers


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Deploying neural networks on microcontroller units (MCUs) presents substantial challenges due to their constrained computation and memory resources. Previous researches have explored patch-based inference as a strategy to conserve memory without sacrificing model accuracy. However, this technique suffers from severe redundant computation overhead, leading to a substantial increase in execution latency. A feasible solution to address this issue is mixed-precision quantization, but it faces the challenges of accuracy degradation and a time-consuming search time. In this paper, we propose QuantMCU, a novel patch-based inference method that utilizes value-driven mixed-precision quantization to reduce redundant computation. We first utilize value-driven patch classification (VDPC) to maintain the model accuracy. VDPC classifies patches into two classes based on whether they contain outlier values. For patches containing outlier values, we apply 8-bit quantization to the feature maps on the dataflow branches that follow. In addition, for patches without outlier values, we utilize value-driven quantization search (VDQS) on the feature maps of their following dataflow branches to reduce search time. Specifically, VDQS introduces a novel quantization search metric that takes into account both computation and accuracy, and it employs entropy as an accuracy representation to avoid additional training. VDQS also adopts an iterative approach to determine the bitwidth of each feature map to further accelerate the search process. Experimental results on real-world MCU devices show that QuantMCU can reduce computation by 2.2x on average while maintaining comparable model accuracy compared to the state-of-the-art patch-based inference methods.
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