Neural Networks API Drivers

This document provides an overview on how to implement a Neural Networks API driver for Android 9. For full details, consult the documentation found in the HAL definition files in hardware/interfaces/neuralnetworks.You will find useful code, including a sample driver, in frameworks/ml/nn/driver.

We suggest you familiarize yourself with the Neural Networks API guide before reading this document.

Changes introduced in Android 9

The 1.1 HAL is very similar to the 1.0 HAL introduced in Android 8.1. It contains three notable changes:

  • IDevice::prepareModel_1_1includes an ExecutionPreference parameter. A driver can use this to adjust its preparation, knowing that the application prefers to conserve battery or will be executing the model in quick successive calls.
  • An application can specify that 32 bit float computations can be run using 16 bit float range and/or precision by setting Model.relaxComputationFloat32toFloat16 to true. The Capabilities struct has the additional field relaxedFloat32toFloat16Performance so that the driver can report its relaxed performance to the Framework.


The Neural Networks (NN) HAL defines an abstraction of the various accelerators. The drivers for these accelerators must conform to this HAL. Like all drivers implemented since the Android 8.0 release, the interface is specified in HIDL files.

The general flow of the interface between the framework and a driver is depicted below:

Neural Networks Interface

Figure 1: Neural Networks flow


At initialization, the Framework queries the driver for its capabilities. How fast can the accelerator process floating point and quantized tensors? How much power does the accelerator use doing so? The Framework uses this information to determine where a model will be executed. See IDevice::getCapabilitiesin IDevice.hal.

Request compilation

For a given application request, the Framework needs to figure out which accelerators to use.

At model compilation time, the framework sends the model to each driver by calling IDevice::getSupportedOperations. Each driver returns an array of booleans indicating which operations of the model are supported. The driver may decide that it can't support a given operation for many reasons, for example:

  • It does not support the data type or the operation,
  • It supports only operations with specific input parameters, e.g. it can do convolve 3x3 and 5x5 but not 7x7, or
  • Memory constraints prevent it from handling large graphs or inputs.

The Framework chooses which parts of the model to run on the available processors. It bases its decision on the performance characteristics of the processor and on the preference stated by the application, e.g., whether it prefers speed or energy efficiency. See the Performance Characteristics section below.

The Framework instructs each selected driver to prepare to execute a subset of the model by calling IDevice::prepareModel. This instructs the driver to compile the request. A driver may for example generate code, create a re-ordered copy of the weights, etc. There may be a substantial time between the compilation of the model and the execution of requests, so precious resources like large chunks of device memory should not be assigned at this time.

If any driver returns a failure code during the preparation, the Framework runs the entire model on the CPU. On success, an IPreparedModelhandle is returned.

A driver may want to cache to persistent storage the results of its compilation. This avoids a perhaps lengthy compilation step each time the application is started. The directory frameworks/ml/nn/driver/cache contains sample caching code. The nnCachesubdirectory contains persistent storage code. A driver is free to use this implementation or any other. A driver is responsible for freeing cached artefacts when they are no longer useful.

Request execution

When the application asks the Framework to execute a request, the Framework calls IPreparedModel::execute for each selected driver. The Requestparameter passed to this function lists the input and output buffers used for the execution. Both input and output buffers use a standard format; see the Tensors section.

The driver notifies the framework when the work has been completed via the IExecutionCallback.

For user requests that span multiple processors, the Framework is responsible for reserving the intermediate memory and for sequencing the calls to each driver.

Multiple requests can be initiated in parallel on the same IPreparedModel.A driver is free to execute them in parallel or to serialize their executions.

A driver may also be asked to keep around more than one prepared model. E.g. prepare m1, prepare m2, run r1 on m1, run r2 on m2, run r3 on m1, run r4 on m2, … delete m1, delete m2.

To avoid a slow first execution that could result in a poor user experience (e.g., a first frame stutter), we recommend that the driver perform most initializations in the compilation phase. Initialization on first execution should be limited to actions that would negatively affect system health if done very early, like reserving large temporary buffers or increasing the clock rate of the accelerator. Drivers that can only prepare a very limited number of concurrent models may also have to do their initialization at first execution.

To give good performance on quick successive executions, a driver may want to hold on to temporary buffers or increased clock rates. We recommend that a watchdog thread be created to release these resources if no new requests have been created after a fixed period of time.

When an application is finished using a prepared model, the Framework releases its reference to the IPreparedModel object. Shortly after, the IPreparedModel object will be destroyed in the driver service that created it. Model-specific resources can be reclaimed at this time in the implementation of the destructor.

Performance characteristics

To determine how to allocate the computations to the available accelerators, the Framework must understand the efficiency of each accelerator: how fast it can execute a query and how energy efficient it is.

While the performance could be simply measured by running a sample workload on device, battery drain is harder to measure. For this reason, at initialization time, the driver will provide standardized numbers on how fast and how efficiently it can execute a few reference workloads.

This is an imperfect method. A lot of factors affect the actual runtime performance: type of data, size of the tensors, operator types, etc.

In Android 9, we recommend that you use MobileNets quantized and MobileNets floats as reference workloads when determining the values that the driver must return in response to the getCapabilitiescall.The MobileNets floats model should be used to measure both the full 32 bit float performance and the relaxed 16 bit float performance.

A driver does not benefit from misrepresenting these numbers. Doing so will lead the Framework to doing suboptimal work assignment. In future releases, these numbers could be subject to verification by VTS.

CPU usage

Drivers will use the CPU to set up the computations. They should not use the CPU to perform graph computations, as this will interfere with the ability of the Framework to allocate the work correctly. A driver should simply report to the Framework the parts it can't handle, and let the Framework handle the rest.

There is no driver for the CPU. The Framework provides a CPU based implementation of all operations except for OEM operations.


Google provides a complete set of VTS tests. These tests exercise each API. They also verify that all operators supported by a driver work correctly, and give results of sufficient precision.

For Android 9, we've selected the following ad-hoc precision requirements: 1e-5 for float, off-by-one for quantized. In the future, we hope to establish more rigorous precision requirements based on tests on a wide range of models and implementations.


Because application processes communicate directly to a driver's process, the driver code must validate the arguments of the calls it receives. This validation is verified by VTS. See frameworks/ml/nn/include/ValidateHal.h for validation code.

Additionally, drivers should ensure that applications can't interfere with each other even when they use the same accelerator.