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Sub-mW Keyword Spotting on an MCU: Analog Binary Feature Extraction and Binary Neural Networks


Gianmarco Cerutti, Renzo Andri, Lukas Cavigelli, Michele Magno, Elisabetta Farella, Luca Benini.


Sub-mW Keyword Spotting on an MCU: Analog Binary Feature Extraction and Binary Neural Networks


Keyword spotting (KWS) is a crucial function enabling the interaction with the many ubiquitous smart devices in our surroundings, either activating them through wake-word or directly as a human-computer interface. For many applications, KWS is the entry point for our interactions with the device and, thus, an always-on workload. Many smart devices are mobile and their battery lifetime is heavily impacted by continuously running services. KWS and similar always-on services are thus the focus when optimizing the overall power consumption. This work addresses KWS energy-efficiency on low-cost microcontroller units (MCUs). We combine analog binary feature extraction with binary neural networks. By replacing the digital preprocessing with the proposed analog front-end, we show that the energy required for data acquisition and preprocessing can be reduced by 29x, cutting its share from a dominating 85% to a mere 16% of the overall energy consumption for our reference KWS application. Experimental evaluations on the Speech Commands Dataset show that the proposed system outperforms state-of-the-art accuracy and energy efficiency, respectively, by 1% and 4.3x on a 10-class dataset while providing a compelling accuracy-energy trade-off including a 2% accuracy drop for a 71x energy reduction.

Publication type:


Title of the journal:

IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems I
Year of Publication




Number, date or frequency of the Journal:08 February 2022

Key Facts

  • Project Coordinator: Dr. Sotiris Ioannidis
  • Institution: Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH)
  • E-mail: 
  • Start: 01.01.2021
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Participating Organisations: 17
  • Number of countries: 12

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program under grant agreement No 957337. The website reflects only the view of the author(s) and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.