NengoDL Simulator

This is the class that allows users to access the nengo_dl backend. This can be used as a drop-in replacement for nengo.Simulator (i.e., simply replace any instance of nengo.Simulator with nengo_dl.Simulator and everything will continue to function as normal).

In addition, the Simulator exposes features unique to the NengoDL backend. In many cases these features are accessed through something very similar to the Keras API, which will be familiar to many deep learning practitioners. For example, the Simulator has predict, fit, compile, and evaluate functions, which work in the same way as the corresponding functions of a Keras Model.

The full class documentation can be viewed in the API Reference.

Keras integration

Under the hood, the NengoDL Simulator is using a Keras model to perform the simulation. That means that most things that you would do with a Keras Model will also work with a NengoDL Simulator. For example, you can set up a complex input pipeline using, and feed those inputs to the Nengo model through Simulator.predict. Or you could follow all the steps in this TensorBoard tutorial (simply replacing the Keras Model with a NengoDL Simulator) in order to view training metrics from in TensorBoard.

In general, if you are wondering how to access some functionality in NengoDL, look up how you would do that thing in Keras, and it probably works the same way! If you find something that works in Keras but not NengoDL, consider asking a question on the forums or opening a feature request.

Choosing which elements to optimize

By default, NengoDL will optimize the following elements in a model:

  1. Connection weights (neuron–neuron weight matrices or decoders)

  2. Ensemble encoders

  3. Neuron biases

These elements will not be optimized if they are targeted by an online learning rule. For example, nengo.PES modifies connection weights as a model is running. If we also tried to optimize those weights with some offline training method then those two processes would conflict with each other, likely resulting in unintended effects. So NengoDL will assume that those elements should not be optimized.

Any of these default behaviours can be overridden using the “trainable” config option.

Saving and loading parameters

After optimizing a model we often want to do something with the trained parameters (e.g., inspect their values, save them to file, reuse them in a different model). NengoDL provides a number of methods to access model parameters, in order to support different use cases.

The most basic way to access model parameters is through the data structure. This provides access to the parameters of any Nengo object, returning them as numpy arrays. For example:

with nengo.Network() as net:
    node = nengo.Node([0])
    ens = nengo.Ensemble(10, 1)
    conn = nengo.Connection(node, ens)
    probe = nengo.Probe(ens)

with nengo_dl.Simulator(net) as sim:
    # < run training >

    print([conn].weights)  # connection weights
    print([ens].bias)  # bias values
    print([ens].encoders)  # encoder values
    print([ens])  # to see all the parameters for an object

Once we have the parameters as numpy arrays we can then do whatever we want with them (e.g., save them to file, or use them as arguments in a different model). Thus this method is the most general and flexible, but also somewhat labour intensive as the user needs to handle all of that processing themselves for each parameter.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, save_params/ load_params can be used to save all the parameters of a model to file. This is convenient if we want to save and resume the state of a model (e.g., run some training, do some analysis, and then run more training):

with nengo_dl.Simulator(net) as sim:
    # < run training >


# < do something else >

with nengo_dl.Simulator(net) as sim2:
    # sim2 will now match the parameters from sim

We can also use save/load_params to reuse parameters between models, as long as the structure of the two models match exactly (for example, reusing parameters from a rate version of a model in a spiking version).

This method is quick and convenient, but not as flexible as other options.


Rather than saving model parameters to file, we can store live parameters back into the model definition using freeze_params. We can freeze the parameters of individual Ensembles and Connections, or pass a Network to freeze all the Ensembles and Connections in that Network.

The main advantage of this approach is that it makes it easy to reuse a NengoDL model in different Nengo simulators. For example, we could optimize a model in NengoDL, save the result as a Nengo network, and then run that model in another Simulator (e.g., one running on custom neuromorphic hardware).

with nengo_dl.Simulator(net) as sim:
    # < run training >


# load our optimized network in a different simulator
with nengo.Simulator(net) as sim2:
    # sim2 will now simulate a model in the default Nengo simulator, but
    # with the same parameters as our optimized NengoDL model