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Deep Learning for Object Detection: A Comprehensive Review


By the end of this post, we will hopefully have gained an understanding of how deep learning is applied to object detection, and how these object detection models both inspire and diverge from one another.



By Joyce Xu, Stanford.

Header image

With the rise of autonomous vehicles, smart video surveillance, facial detection and various people counting applications, fast and accurate object detection systems are rising in demand. These systems involve not only recognizing and classifying every object in an image, but localizing each one by drawing the appropriate bounding box around it. This makes object detection a significantly harder task than its traditional computer vision predecessor, image classification.

Fortunately, however, the most successful approaches to object detection are currently extensions of image classification models. A few months ago, Google released a new object detection API for Tensorflow. With this release came the pre-built architectures and weights for a few specific models:

In my last blog post, I covered the intuition behind the three base network architectures listed above: MobileNets, Inception, and ResNet. This time around, I want to do the same for Tensorflow’s object detection models: Faster R-CNN, R-FCN, and SSD. By the end of this post, we will hopefully have gained an understanding of how deep learning is applied to object detection, and how these object detection models both inspire and diverge from one another.

 

Faster R-CNN

 
Faster R-CNN is now a canonical model for deep learning-based object detection. It helped inspire many detection and segmentation models that came after it, including the two others we’re going to examine today. Unfortunately, we can’t really begin to understand Faster R-CNN without understanding its own predecessors, R-CNN and Fast R-CNN, so let’s take a quick dive into its ancestry.

R-CNN

R-CNN is the grand-daddy of Faster R-CNN. In other words, R-CNN reallykicked things off.
R-CNN, or Region-based Convolutional Neural Network, consisted of 3 simple steps:

  1. Scan the input image for possible objects using an algorithm called Selective Search, generating ~2000 region proposals
  2. Run a convolutional neural net (CNN) on top of each of these region proposals
  3. Take the output of each CNN and feed it into a) an SVM to classify the region and b) a linear regressor to tighten the bounding box of the object, if such an object exists.

These 3 steps are illustrated in the image below:

In other words, we first propose regions, then extract features, and then classify those regions based on their features. In essence, we have turned object detection into an image classification problem. R-CNN was very intuitive, but very slow.

Fast R-CNN

R-CNN’s immediate descendant was Fast-R-CNN. Fast R-CNN resembled the original in many ways, but improved on its detection speed through two main augmentations:

  1. Performing feature extraction over the image before proposing regions, thus only running one CNN over the entire image instead of 2000 CNN’s over 2000 overlapping regions
  2. Replacing the SVM with a softmax layer, thus extending the neural network for predictions instead of creating a new model

The new model looked something like this:

As we can see from the image, we are now generating region proposals based on the last feature map of the network, not from the original image itself. As a result, we can train just one CNN for the entire image.

In addition, instead of training many different SVM’s to classify each object class, there is a single softmax layer that outputs the class probabilities directly. Now we only have one neural net to train, as opposed to one neural net and many SVM’s.

Fast R-CNN performed much better in terms of speed. There was just one big bottleneck remaining: the selective search algorithm for generating region proposals.

Faster R-CNN

At this point, we’re back to our original target: Faster R-CNN. The main insight of Faster R-CNN was to replace the slow selective search algorithm with a fast neural net. Specifically, it introduced the region proposal network (RPN).

Here’s how the RPN worked:

  • At the last layer of an initial CNN, a 3x3 sliding window moves across the feature map and maps it to a lower dimension (e.g. 256-d)
  • For each sliding-window location, it generates multiple possible regions based on k fixed-ratio anchor boxes (default bounding boxes)
  • Each region proposal consists of a) an “objectness” score for that region and b) 4 coordinates representing the bounding box of the region

In other words, we look at each location in our last feature map and consider k different boxes centered around it: a tall box, a wide box, a large box, etc. For each of those boxes, we output whether or not we think it contains an object, and what the coordinates for that box are. This is what it looks like at one sliding window location:

The 2k scores represent the softmax probability of each of the k bounding boxes being on “object.” Notice that although the RPN outputs bounding box coordinates, it does not try to classify any potential objects: its sole job is still proposing object regions. If an anchor box has an “objectness” score above a certain threshold, that box’s coordinates get passed forward as a region proposal.

Once we have our region proposals, we feed them straight into what is essentially a Fast R-CNN. We add a pooling layer, some fully-connected layers, and finally a softmax classification layer and bounding box regressor. In a sense, Faster R-CNN = RPN + Fast R-CNN.

Altogether, Faster R-CNN achieved much better speeds and a state-of-the-art accuracy. It is worth noting that although future models did a lot to increase detection speeds, few models managed to outperform Faster R-CNN by a significant margin. In other words, Faster R-CNN may not be the simplest or fastest method for object detection, but it is still one of the best performing. Case in point, Tensorflow’s Faster R-CNN with Inception ResNet is their slowest but most accurate model.

At the end of the day, Faster R-CNN may look complicated, but its core design is the same as the original R-CNN: hypothesize object regions and then classify them. This is now the predominant pipeline for many object detection models, including our next one.