Deployment blocks

One of the most powerful features in Edge Impulse are the built-in deployment targets (under Deployment in the Studio), which let you create ready-to-go binaries for development boards, or custom libraries for a wide variety of targets that incorporate your trained impulse. You can also create custom deployment blocks for your organization. This lets developers quickly iterate on products without getting your embedded engineers involved, lets your customers build personalized firmware using their own data, or lets you create custom libraries.

In this tutorial you'll learn how to use custom deployment blocks to create a new deployment target, and how to make this target available in the Studio for all users in the organization.

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You'll need:

  • The Edge Impulse CLI.

    • If you receive any warnings that's fine. Run edge-impulse-blocks afterwards to verify that the CLI was installed correctly.

Deployment blocks use Docker containers, a virtualization technique which lets developers package up an application with all dependencies in a single package. If you want to test your blocks locally you'll also need (this is not a requirement):

Then, create a new folder on your computer named custom-deploy-block.

1. Getting basic deployment info

When a user deploys with a custom deployment block two things happen:

  1. A package is created that contains information about the deployment (like the sensors used, frequency of the data, etc.), any trained neural network in .tflite and SavedModel formats, the Edge Impulse SDK, and all DSP and ML blocks as C++ code.

  2. This package is then consumed by the custom deployment block, which can incorporate it with a base firmware, or repackage it into a new library.

If you now go to the Deployment page, a new option appears under 'Create library':

Once you click Build you'll receive a ZIP file containing five items:

  • deployment-metadata.json - this contains all information about the deployment, like the names of all classes, the frequency of the data, full impulse configuration, and quantization parameters. A specification can be found here: Deployment metadata spec.

  • trained.tflite - if you have a neural network in the project this contains neural network in .tflite format. This network is already fully quantized if you choose the int8 optimization, otherwise this is the float32 model.

  • - if you have a neural network in the project this contains the full TensorFlow SavedModel. Note that we might update the TensorFlow version used to train these networks at any time, so rely on the compiled model or the TFLite file where possible.

  • edge-impulse-sdk - a copy of the latest Inferencing SDK.

  • model-parameters - impulse and block configuration in C++ format. Can be used by the SDK to quickly run your impulse.

  • tflite-model - neural network as source code in a way that can be used by the SDK to quickly run your impulse.

Store the unzipped file under custom-deploy-block/input.

2. Building a new binary

With the basic information in place we can create a new deployment block. Here we'll build a standalone application that runs our impulse on Linux, very useful when running your impulse on a gateway or desktop computer. First, open a command prompt or terminal window, navigate to the custom-deploy-block folder (that you created under 1.), and run:

$ edge-impulse-blocks init

This will prompt you to log in, and enter the details for your block.

Next, we'll add the application. The base application can be found at edgeimpulse/example-standalone-inferencing.

  1. Unzip under custom-deploy-block/app.

To build this application we need to combine the application with the edge-impulse-sdk, model-parameters and tflite-model folder, and invoke the (already included) Makefile.

2.1 Creating a build script

To build the application we use Docker, a virtualization technique which lets developers package up an application with all dependencies in a single package. In this container we'll place the build tools required for this application, and scripts to combine the trained impulse with the base application.

First, let's create a small build script. As a parameter you'll receive --metadata which points to the deployment information. In here you'll also get information on the input and output folders where you need to read from and write to.

Create a new file called custom-deploy-block/ and add:

import argparse, json, os, shutil, zipfile, threading

# parse arguments (--metadata FILE is passed in)
parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description='Custom deploy block demo')
parser.add_argument('--metadata', type=str)
args = parser.parse_args()

# load the metadata.json file
with open(args.metadata) as f:
    metadata = json.load(f)

# now we have two folders 'metadata.folders.input' - this is where all the SDKs etc are,
# and 'metadata.folders.output' - this is where we need to write our output
input_dir = metadata['folders']['input']
app_dir = os.path.join(os.path.dirname(os.path.realpath(__file__)), 'app')
output_dir = metadata['folders']['output']

print('Copying files to build directory...')

is_copying = True
def print_copy_progress():
    if (is_copying):
        threading.Timer(2.0, print_copy_progress).start()
        print("Still copying...")

# create a build directory, the input / output folders are on network storage so might be very slow
build_dir = '/tmp/build'
if os.path.exists(build_dir):

# copy in the data from both 'input' and 'app' folders
os.system('cp -r ' + input_dir + '/* ' + build_dir)
os.system('cp -r ' + app_dir + '/* ' + build_dir)

is_copying = False

print('Copying files to build directory OK')

print('Compiling application...')

is_compiling = True
def print_compile_progress():
    if (is_compiling):
        threading.Timer(2.0, print_compile_progress).start()
        print("Still compiling...")

# then invoke Make
os.system('make -f Makefile.tflite')

is_compiling = False

print('Compiling application OK')

# ZIP the build folder up, and copy to output dir
if not os.path.exists(output_dir):
shutil.make_archive(os.path.join(output_dir, 'deploy'), 'zip', os.path.join(build_dir, 'build'))

Next, we need to create a Dockerfile, which contains all dependencies for the build. These include GNU Make, a compiler, and both the build script and the base application.

Create a new file called custom-deploy-block/Dockerfile and add:


FROM ubuntu:18.04


# Install base dependencies
RUN apt update && apt install -y build-essential software-properties-common wget

# Install LLVM 9
RUN wget && chmod +x && ./ 9
RUN rm /usr/bin/gcc && rm /usr/bin/g++ && ln -s $(which clang-9) /usr/bin/gcc && ln -s $(which clang++-9) /usr/bin/g++

# Install Python 3.7
RUN apt install -y python3.7

# Copy the base application in
COPY app ./app

# Copy any scripts in that we have
COPY *.py ./

# This is the script our application should run (-u to disable buffering)
ENTRYPOINT [ "python3", "-u", "" ]

2.2 Testing the build script with Docker

To test the build script we first build the container, then invoke it with the files from the input directory. Open a command prompt or terminal, navigate to the custom-deploy-block folder and:

  1. Build the container:

    $ docker build -t cdb-demo .
  2. Invoke the build script - this mounts the current directory in the container under /home, and then passes the downloaded metadata script to the container:

    $ docker run --rm -it -v $PWD:/home cdb-demo --metadata /home/input/deployment-metadata.json
  3. Voila. You now have an output folder that contains a ZIP file. Unzip output/ and now you have a standalone application which runs your impulse. If you run Linux you can invoke this application directly (grab some data from 'Live classification' for the features, see Running your impulse locally):

    $ ./output/edge-impulse-standalone "RAW FEATURES HERE"

Or if you run Windows or macOS, you can use Docker to run this application:

$ docker run --rm -v $PWD/output:/home ubuntu:18.04 /home/edge-impulse-standalone "RAW FEATURES HERE"

3. Uploading the deployment block to Edge Impulse

With the deployment block ready you can make it available in Edge Impulse. Open a command prompt or terminal window, navigate to the folder you created earlier, and run:

$ edge-impulse-blocks push

This packages up your folder, sends it to Edge Impulse where it'll be built, and finally is added to your organization. The transformation block is now available in Edge Impulse under Deployment blocks. You can go here to set the logo, update the description, and set extra command line parameters.

Privileged mode

Deployment blocks do not have access to the internet by default. If you need this, or if you need to pull additional information from the project (e.g. access to DSP blocks) you can set the 'privileged' flag on a deployment block. This will enable outside internet access, and will pass in the project.apiKey parameter in the metadata (if a development API key is set) that you can use to authenticate with the Edge Impulse API.

4. Using the deployment block

The deployment block is automatically available for all organizational projects. Go to the Deployment page on a project, and you'll find a new section 'Custom targets'. Select your new deployment target and click Build.

And now you'll have a freshly built binary from your own deployment block!

5. Conclusion

Custom deployment blocks are a powerful tool for your organization. They let you build binaries for unreleased products, let you package up impulse as custom libraries, or can let your customers deploy to private targets (if you add an external collaborator to a project they'll have access to the blocks as well). Because the deployment blocks are integrated with your project, and hosted by Edge Impulse this lets everyone, from FAE to R&D developer, now iterate on on-device models without getting your embedded engineers involved.

You can also use custom deployment blocks with the other organizational features, and can use this to set up powerful pipelines automating data ingestion from your cloud services, transforming raw data into ML-suitable data, training new impulses and then deploying back to your device - either through the UI, or via the API. If you're interested in deployment blocks or any of the other enterprise features, let us know!


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