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XDF 2018 Workshop

SDSoC, Computer Vision, and Machine Learning


Welcome to the XDF 2018 SDSoC, machine learning, and computer vision workshop!

The Xilinx SDx development environment is uniquely suited to developing systems combining hardware-accelerated machine learning, sensor input from a variety of sources, and accelerating custom algorithms using FPGA fabric. By leveraging the tight coupling between the CPUs and FPGA fabric in Xilinx's ACAP and SoC devices, designers have the flexibility to adapt their hardware and platforms to achieve unparalleled acceleration.

In this lab you will take video input from a USB webcam, run it through the Deep-learning Processing Unit (DPU), and detect faces in the input video stream using the DenseBox neural network as illustrated in the following figure. You will then output the video with an overlay onto a DisplayPort-connected monitor. All of this will be built targeting the low-cost, high performance, and low-power Ultra96 board from Avnet on a Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ ZU3 device.

Missing Image: Top-Level Connectivity

To move video in the system you will use the popular open-source gstreamer framework to sequence processing operations, all running on Linux on the quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processing subsystem.

No prior experience with SDSoC is necessary for this lab - all instructions are provided, although some knowledge of C++ programming is assumed. If you are unsure how to approach a particular step or sequence of operations please reach out to one of the lab assistants standing by to help. Alternatively, advanced users who are familiar with the SDSoC tool flow and environment may wish to experiment on their own.

Connecting to Amazon AWS

In this lab exercise you will start an AWS EC2 m5.8xlarge instance and connect to it using either SSH or the Remote Desktop client. Once connected you will be able to run the Xilinx tools with all needed scripts and configurations.

For this event, each registered participant will be required to start their own AWS instance.

Log in to AWS and Start the Instance

You should have received a piece of paper which has the Account ID, IAM user name, and password for a unique AWS AMI. If you don't have it, or have lost it, please raise your hand and ask one of the lab assistants for help.

Begin by using your web browser to open the following URL:<your IAM user name>;sort=tag:Name

For example, if your user name is "user7", the correct URL would be:;sort=tag:Name

Log in with your assigned account ID, user name, and password as shown in the following figure:

AWS Login Screen

You will see a list of AWS instances. Select the instance associated with your user name, noting that there are many attendees registered for XDF and you may have to scoll a bit to find yours (there is a search/filter function available at the top of the screen to enter your user name). One you've located it click Actions -> Instance State -> Start as shown in the following figure:

AWS Instance Start

Each instance takes approximately 10 to 20 seconds to start, and you will need to refresh your browser in order to see the status update. Once the instance has booted the state will display as "running" and you will see an IPv4 public IP address associated with your Amazon instance as shown in the following figure. Take note of this address as you will use it in subsequent steps to connect to the instance and access the lab software environment.

AWS Instance Running with IP Address

There are two ways to connect to the instance: SSH and RDP.

Note: This lab requires the use of the SDSoC GUI, and Xilinx has found connecting through RDP to generally be more responsive than SSH tunneling and/or VNC for AWS instances. As RDP clients are available on most systems, instructions for RDP are provided here.

Connect to the AWS AMI Using RDP

The instance you started should be configured with an RDP server. To connect:

From your local laptop, start a remote desktop client

  • Windows: press the Windows key and type "remote desktop"

    • You should see the "Remote Desktop Connection" application in the list of programs

    • If you do not, alternatively you can type mstsc.exe in the Windows run prompt

  • Linux: RDP clients such as Remmina and Vinagre are suitable

  • macOS: Use the Microsoft Remote Desktop app from the Mac App Store

In the remote desktop client, enter the public IPv4 address of your instance. If you are unsure where to find it please refer back to the prior figure.

IMPORTANT: Before connecting, set your remote desktop client to use 24-bit or lower color depth. This is a shared network environment with many people on WiFi, your performance (and theirs) will be degraded with higher bandwidth utilization.

On Windows, in the bottom-left corner of the connection prompt click Options, then select the Display tab and set Colors to True Colors (24-bit).

Click Connect (or equivalent) to connect to the remote system.

Note: You may see a message about untrusted connection certificates. If so, click Yes to dismiss this message. Your remote desktop client should prompt you to log in.

Log in with the following credentials:

  • User: ubuntu
  • Password: xdf_sdsoc

Note that it is possible that the username and password you were provided for your use during the session may not match the above. In the event of a discrepancy you must use the provided login and password.

It is possible that the RDP connection may fail on the first attempt. Typically connecting a second time resolves the issue.

Open a new terminal as shown in the following figure:

Opening a New Terminal over RDP

Provided Design Files

All design files for this lab exist under the the ~/XDF_Labs/SDSoC/ directory on the AWS AMI you were assigned.

Under this top-level source directory you will find four primary directories: lab_files, platform, workspace, and solution.

  • The lab_files directory contains the source files you will import to begin working on the lab.
  • The platform directory contains all of the files necessary to target the Ultra96 board with SDSoC, including the contents of the root file system needed for cross-compiling the gstreamer plugins.
  • The workspace directory is currently empty but will be used for your target workspace.
  • The solution directory contains, as its name implies, a ready-made solution to the lab that is complete and working. It can be used for reference if you get stuck on any step.

Design Details

This lab targets an effectively empty hardware design containing only the clocking and reset infrastructure needed to enable the device. For your purposes here you will effectively ignore it as it consumes nearly no FPGA resources. The USB and DisplayPort interfaces are implemented using the hardened IP in the Zynq UltraScale+ Processing system. You will interact with them using standard drivers built into the Linux kernel.

However, unfortunately engineering seldom lends itself to simple block diagrams. In this example you have the following constraints:

  • Your neural network has been trained on 640x480 images using the RGB pixel format.

  • Your USB webcam will produce raw data, and at this resolution, but in the YUV 4:2:2 pixel format.

  • The DisplayPort controller in the Zynq UltraScale+ PS block requires that the output frame buffers be aligned to a 256-byte stride.

From these constraints you can draw two conclusions: you must convert between the YUV 4:2:2 pixel format and RGB, and you must put the output format into something that can be displayed by the hardware. To that end you will work on the "real" block diagram shown in the following figure:

Missing Image: Detailed Block Design

In this example design you will implement the three blocks not composed of hard silicon (YUYV to RGB conversion, the DPU, and video scaling) with a mix of accelerated hardware functions and software functions using the SDSoC tool.

Before beginning to build the design with SDSoC it's important to think about which blocks you intend to implement in hardware vs. which blocks you intend to implement in software. In a real system you would likely want to implement all of these as hardware blocks for performance, but perhaps you have other algorithms to accelerate, etc. For this lab we will use:

  • The DPU IP from Xilinx, which is provided as a "C-Callable IP Library" for the SDSoC tool. Xilinx provides a standard API to interact with the library, and the relevant portions of the hardware functionality are automatically accelerated using the FPGA fabric.

  • To convert from YUV 4:2:2 (hereinafter referred to as YUYV) to RGB you will use a standard C++ function accelerated into the FPGA fabric.

  • To scale the video to the display you will use software scaling in gstreamer. This is not the way to implement the system for maximum performance; your goal is to showcase the interoperability of SDSoC-accelerated components along with software processing. For best results please refer to the Xilinx xf::OpenCV hardware-accelerated OpenCV library.

Theory of Operation: Pixel Format Conversion

Our Logitech webcam will provide YUYV data at up to 1080p resolutions, but to avoid an input scaling step you will configure it to provide raw YUYV data at your requested 640x480 resolution. You then need to convert that data in memory to RGB data that your neural network has been trained to understand.

Fortunately, converting between YUYV and RGB is a simple operation that works very nicely with the stream-based processing capabilities of an FPGA. In memory, the YUYV data is laid out as shown in the following figure, with each value represented by a single byte.

YUYV Memory Layout

Because YUYV is a sparse format you can't convert pixel-by-pixel but rather using a full four-byte word (or, in other words, two pixels to two pixels). The equations for the conversion are as follows:

R_0 = 1.164 * (Y_0 - 16) + 2.018 * (U_0 - 128)

G_0 = 1.164 * (Y_0 - 16) - 0.813 * (V_0 - 128) - 0.391 * (U_0 - 128)

B_0 = 1.164 * (Y_0 - 16) + 1.596 * (V_0 - 128)

R_1 = 1.164 * (Y_1 - 16) + 2.018 * (U_0 - 128)

G_1 = 1.164 * (Y_1 - 16) - 0.813 * (V_0 - 128) - 0.391 * (U_0 - 128)

B_1 = 1.164 * (Y_1 - 16) + 1.596 * (V_0 - 128)

This pattern repeats throughout the image, making implementation with a for loop quite simple.

Using fixed-point representations of the constant values in the FPGA fabric results in an extremely small and efficient implementation that's able to produce a new pixel value on each clock cycle, converting the values easily without consuming valuable CPU processing time.

Defining the Software Architecture

Now that you have a general understanding of the system you will address the "nuts and bolts" of getting the system constructed. Video systems built with gstreamer are built using pipelines, which are strings of processing elements, each one of which performs a particular function. Many functions and interfaces are available, but the details of gstreamer are beyond the scope of this lab. Suffice it to say that we will be building a pipeline with the topology indicated in the following figure:

Missing Image: Gstreamer

Each block in the prior figure will be implemented with a pre-compiled shared object file, or .so, that defines the interfaces, block behavior, etc. There are many topologies you can implement with SDSoC, but you will implement something like the following where both the YUYV to RGB and DPU functions call into a single hardware-accelerated library. This isolates, to the degree possible, the hardware implementation from the gstreamer implementation. Your full topology will look like the following figure:

Missing Image: Gstreamer

Now that you have a general understanding of the IPs you want to create and their interfaces, it's time to package them up in a meaningful way for use in SDSoC. You will create a single library,, that contains both the DPU C-Callable IP library functions and the hardware-accelerated pixel format conversion function. This library will consume the libdpu.a library which contains the DPU IP (and this is the general SDSoC flow for embedded hardware libraries). If you are unfamiliar, .a file in C or C++ is a static archive. This is a pre-compiled archive that contains, in your case, both pre-compiled C++ function stubs and the source files to recreate the DPU IP. This means that when using C-Callable IP with SDSoC you don't need to worry about copying around the original IP sources or dealing with instantiating the IP directly into the Vivado development environment.

Xilinx provides pre-defined C++ functions that will map onto the top-level interfaces of the DPU IP. For your lab you will add in additional functions to enable the additional processing flows.

Building the SDSoC Design

Begin by connecting to the AMI containing the lab source files. The software environment has already been pre-configured, however, you need to set an environment variable to point to the cross-compilation target file system. This is to allow the development environment to parse and link against the headers, libraries, etc. that will be present on your target. This sysroot has been pre-built with the Xilinx PetaLinux toolchain.

From a command prompt, enter the following:

cd ~/XDF_Labs/SDSoC/platform/aarch64-xilinx-linux
export SYSROOT=`pwd`

NOTE: For those unfamiliar with Linux syntax, the characters shown in the "export SYSROOT" line are the backtick character, typically found next to the number one on US keyboards, and are not the single quote character.

You will want to double check that the $SYSROOT environment variable is set correctly as any errors here will result in compilation errors later. Check with the "echo" command to ensure that it is correct:


Launch SDSoC

Launch the SDx development environment by running the following from the command line:

sdx -workspace ~/XDF_Labs/SDSoC/workspace

From the SDx welcome screen, select the Import Project link. In the subsequent dialog select "Eclipse workspace or zip file" and click "Next", as shown in the following figure:

Import Projects Dialog

NOTE: If you have closed the initial welcome screen, you will be presented with a blank workspace. Right-click within the "Project Explorer" pane and select "Import". To launch the import wizard, expand the "General" tab and select the "Existing Projects into Workspace" option and click "Next", as shown in the following figure:

SDx Import Projects Dialog

With the "Select root directory" radio button selected browse to the directory:


Ensure that the following projects are selected:

  • dpucore130_1152
  • gstsdxfacedetect
  • gstsdxpedestriandetect
  • gstsdxcolorconvert

NOTE: Also ensure that the "Copy projects into workspace" option is selected.

Your dialog should look similar to the following figure:

Import Projects Dialog

Click "Finish" to import all of the projects.

Note that two directories have been pre-installed into the workspace that do not exist by default. The first, a libs directory, contains support libraries for gstreamer and the DNNDK that you will link against to build your application. The second, an ipcache directory, contains cached hardware synthesis results to help speed up your implementation run (the AMI you are using for this lab has a relatively small number of processor cores, and your lab time is short).

Working in the dpucore130 Project

In the SDx GUI, expand the dpucore130_1152 project (if it isn't already) and double click on the project.sdx file to open it.

The dpucore library includes the DPU and its associated software by default, but you now need to add your YUYV to RGB function.

  1. Right click on the 'src' folder and select Import, then General -> File System.

  2. Browse to the directory /home/ubuntu/XDF_Labs/SDSoC/lab_files/template and select the file colorconvert.cpp, importing it into the src folder of the DPU library.

  3. Open the file by double clicking on it. Note that it contains the function to accelerate your YUYV to RGB conversion, called colorconvert_accel. However, also note the TODO notice at the bottom. Every accelerated function in SDSoC must have one (or more) call sites. In other words, it can't be accelerated in a vacuum, it must be called by something. Add a wrapper around that function (hint: this is just the same function with a different name, passing its data directly to the colorconvert_accel function). Something like:

// Caller for the conversion function
void yuyv2rgb(yuyv_data *yuyv,
              rgb_data *rgb,
              int height,
              int width)
    colorconvert_accel(yuyv, rgb, height, width);
  1. Save the file.

    Your last step is to tell SDx you want to move the colorconvert_accel function to hardware. To do that, from the main project page (which can be opened by double clicking on project.sdx)

  2. Click on the lightning bolt icon (circled in the following figure) to select hardware functions to accelerate, and choose 'colorconvert_accel' from the list.

    Please note that when the dialog box opens the source cache is refreshed; EBS network latency can make this process take roughly 30-45 seconds so please wait a moment if the dialog box comes up with an empty list.

  3. Ensure that both the "Data motion network clock frequency" and "Clock Frequency (MHz)" settings for the accelerator are both 300 MHz, as shown in the following figure:

Accelerator Configuration

  1. Click the hammer icon (build) in the toolbar menu to start the build process.

    This will take some time to complete. When it's done you will have a file that contains the software API to communicate with the DPU, along with your hardware-accelerated color conversion function. You can now link the other libraries against it.

NOTE: AWS resources are shared with other AWS users in the data center, including elastic block storage (EBS). Processes running over EBS may become I/O bound and take longer than they would on a local desktop machine. You may experience longer than normal build times when running this lab in the cloud. To save lab time, cancel the build and switch your workspace to the provided workspace with pre-build hardware by selecting File -> Switch Workspace -> Other and browsing to it. The prebuilt workspace is located at:


Building the GStreamer Plugins

Face Detector

Double click on the gstsdxfacedetect project in the "Project Explorer" pane to open it, then click the build icon at the top of the screen. This project should build in seconds.

Pedestrian Detector

Double click on the gstsdxpedestriandetect project in the "Project Explorer" pane to open it, then click the build icon at the top of the screen. This project should build in seconds.


Double click on the gstsdxcolorconvert project in the "Project Explorer" pane to open it. This project will build similarly quickly, but you have to make a quick modification first. Most of a gstreamer plugin is boilerplate; code that exists to interoperate with the library but that doesn't impact the overall functionality (of course this is a gross simplification, but for your purposes in this lab it's sufficiently accurate). The important part is actually calling the hardware-accelerated function!

The project is already set up to link against the .so file you generated earlier, but you don't call the function in the C code. Under the 'src' directory of the project open the gstsdxcolorconvert.cpp file and browse to the TODO line (line 121). Here, call the function you defined in the hardware library. It should look something like the colorconvert function in the following code sample:

static GstFlowReturn
gst_sdx_colorconvert_process_frames(GstSdxBase   * base,
                                GstSdxFrame ** in_frames,
                                GstSdxFrame  * out_frame)
    GstVideoInfo  *info = NULL;
    GstSdxFrame   *in_frame;
    GstVideoFrame *in_vframe, *out_vframe;
    yuyv_data     *in_data;
    rgb_data      *out_data;

    g_return_val_if_fail(in_frames != NULL &&
                        out_frame != NULL, GST_FLOW_ERROR);

    in_frame = in_frames[0];
    if (in_frame == NULL) {
        GST_WARNING_OBJECT (base, "colorconvert input frame is invalid");
        return GST_FLOW_ERROR;

    in_vframe  = &in_frame->vframe;
    out_vframe = &out_frame->vframe;
    info       = &out_frame->info;
    in_data  = (yuyv_data *) GST_VIDEO_FRAME_PLANE_DATA (in_vframe, 0);
    out_data = (rgb_data *) GST_VIDEO_FRAME_PLANE_DATA (out_vframe, 0);

    // TODO: Add a function call to the YUYV accelerator here
    yuyv2rgb(in_data, out_data, GST_VIDEO_INFO_HEIGHT (info),
             GST_VIDEO_INFO_WIDTH (info));

    GST_DEBUG_OBJECT(base, "colorconvert input frame processed");

    return GST_FLOW_OK;

With this function called, click the build icon at the top once again. This library should also build in a matter of seconds.

Assembling the Boot Files

You have now built a collection of .so files, and a bitstream, to run on the board. These files need to be collected into an SD card image for boot. You can collect them from each project build area into a directory to copy to an SD card image as follows:

cd ~/XDF_Labs/SDSoC/workspace_prebuilt
cp -r dpucore130_1152/Debug/sd_card .
cp libs/* sd_card/
cp gstsdxfacedetect/Debug/ sd_card/
cp gstsdxpedestriandetect/Debug/ sd_card/
cp gstsdxcolorconvert/Debug/ sd_card/

NOTE: If you are using a different workspace than workspace_prebuilt then please ensure you use the correct path for the initial 'cd' command.

You also have an optional shell script available that can be run on the board to automate the subsequent section. If you're interested in the board setup that must be done to install and run custom gstreamer plugins then please ignore it and proceed on, but if you want to add it to your SD card you can install it thusly:

cp ../solution/sd_card/ sd_card/
cp ../solution/sd_card/ sd_card/

Copy the complete contents of the sd_card directory onto your SD card with scp, sftp, or a similar SSH-based file transfer utility. There are many available and it's beyond the scope of this document to provide instructions on each, but FileZilla on Windows and Linux (or command line tools on macOS/Linux) are reliable options. If you don't have an SD card slot available, or are otherwise unable to perform this step, please ask one of the lab assistants for help (you can either help you transfer the files or provide a pre-completed SD card image).

Running on the Board

Connect the serial terminal of the Ultra96 board to your laptop. Your OS may need to automatically download the drivers for the USB UART device. Open a terminal to the tty or COM port created by the UART driver at 115200 kbps. Insert the SD card into the Ultra96 board and power it on. You should see boot messages displayed on the terminal. Do not interrupt the boot process.

Once the board boots, log in with the username root and password root.

At this point if you are only interested in seeing the application run please run the script from the command prompt:

source /media/card/

To run the pedestrian detector, kill it with CTRL-C and launch:

source /media/card/

Otherwise, if you are interested in manually performing the steps please continue on. To suppress kernel printk messages, which are output by default by the SDx runtime and which will clutter the terminal, run:

dmesg -n 1

You also need to install the shared objects to the correct places in the file system. Run the following commands:

cp libd* /usr/lib
cp /usr/lib
cp /usr/lib
cp \ \

The DisplayPort controller in the ZU+ devices supports multiple planes. We are rendering the video to the "graphics" plane, but the console is on the "overlay" plane. To make the overlay plane transparent we can run the modetest command as follows (note that this will disable the output on the display; for this reason we recommend you run this as part of the shell script instead of manually):

modetest -M xlnx -s 38@36:640x480-60@RG24 -w 35:alpha:1 &

Finally, you can launch the gstreamer pipeline for face detection:

gst-launch-1.0 \
    v4l2src io-mode=4 ! \
    video/x-raw,format=YUY2,width=640,height=480,framerate=30/1 ! \
    sdxcolorconvert ! \
    rawvideoparse format="bgr" width=640 height=480 framerate=30 ! \
    sdxfacedetect ! \
    videoscale ! \
    video/x-raw,format=BGR,width=640,height=480 ! \
    kmssink driver-name=xlnx sync=false

You should see output from the webcam piped to the display, with faces clearly outlined by bounding boxes.

You can now launch the pedestrian detection similarly:

gst-launch-1.0 \
    v4l2src io-mode=4 ! \
    video/x-raw,format=YUY2,width=640,height=480,framerate=30/1 ! \
    sdxcolorconvert ! \
    rawvideoparse format="bgr" width=640 height=480 framerate=30 ! \
    sdxpedestriandetect ! \
    videoscale ! \
    video/x-raw,format=BGR,width=640,height=480 ! \
    kmssink driver-name=xlnx sync=false

You should see output from the webcam piped to the display again, with human figures clearly outlined by bounding boxes. Success!


In this lab you built a complete, end-to-end system incorporating machine learning, computer vision processing acceleration, sensor input, and display. You have seen how the SDSoC tool allows you to easily build complex topologies by leveraging existing, open-source frameworks and seamlessly integrating them with hardware-accelerated functions in the programmable logic.

You created a shared library containing the DPU IP along with some additional support functions to perform color space conversion. The DPU is a versatile processing engine; neural network models and trained weights can be swapped at runtime or even run in parallel on the same DPU instance - swapping your DenseBox-based face detection for another algorithm (for instance YOLO, resnet50, or others) is a straightforward software change.

You then wrapped the accelerated functions as gstreamer plugins, allowing you to build flexible, integrated processing chains leveraging a combination of hardware and software. GStreamer is of course not required, but provides an often-familiar and extremely flexible open-source framework for building flexible, adaptable designs.

Machine learning is a technology rapidly transforming nearly every industry, at scales from the cloud to the edge. It doesn't, howver, exist in a vacuum - data must be pre-processed, transformed, and post-processed to take advantage of neural network acceleration, and that processing is often computationally expensive with traditional CPU processing, especially in embedded devices. Xilinx SDx tools are uniquely suited to the task of allowing software developers to create the next generation of adaptable systems, iterating quickly to meet emerging design requirements.

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