Small-Object Detection based on YOLOv5 in Autonomous Driving Systems (2023)


Object detection is a very fundamental and well-studied task in the community of computer vision. The purpose of the object detection task is to classify and localize target objects in an image. With the recent advancements in deep learning technologies over the years, several state-of-the-art methods for object detection have emerged [1]. Object detection has been widely applied to many real-world applications, including autonomous driving, robot vision, intelligent transportation, remote sensing, military operations, and surveillance [2], [3], [4].

Several object detectors usually perform well on large objects but poorly on small objects. We refer to objects as small when their occupying pixel area or field of view is small in an input image. In the case of generic object detectors, the features of small objects lose importance as they are processed through multiple layers of their backbone. The accurate detection of small objects is indispensable and challenging due to poor visual appearance, insufficient context information, noisy representation, indistinguishable features, complicated backgrounds, limited resolution, severe occlusion, etc. [5], [6]. Although modern systems designed to implement object detection in real-time mainly focus on speed at the cost of computational resources, they lack feasibility due to their poor detection accuracy. Thus, improvements in this specific area would benefit practical implications in autonomous driving systems.

Detecting target objects on the road is an essential task for autonomous driving. For most existing road object detectors, the detection accuracy for small objects is less than half that of large objects. This is because they usually cover fewer pixels, and it is difficult to extract features from low resolution, so the model can easily confuse it with the background, resulting in missed or incorrect detection [5]. Moreover, one of the most critical challenges of an object detector is that the accurate detection of different scale objects is not well-balanced. In the context of autonomous driving, traffic signs and traffic lights can be regarded as small objects. Although many studies [7], [8] suggest increasing the representational capacity of the network in terms of depth and width for accurate detection, this impacts the complexity and cost of the model. Accordingly, such models are less suited for autonomous driving systems because of their real-time resource constraints.

In general, deep learning-based object detection models are categorized into (1) Two-stage detection algorithms and (2) One-stage detection algorithms [1], [3]. The two-stage models achieve higher accuracy than one-stage models at the cost of speed and complexity but may not directly benefit the practical driving scenarios. Recently, efforts have been put to match or even improve the performance of one-stage models [2], [4]. Hence, many new one-stage detectors have been developed for such applications. In this letter, we focus on the popular one-stage detector, i.e., You Only Look Once version 5 (YOLOv5) model [9]. This is the most recent version in the YOLO family with a clear and flexible structure aiming for high performance and speed on accessible platforms. However, the current systems that apply this model rely either on conventional training methods, regularization/normalization techniques, or adjusting specific parameters to improve performance, with limited or no consideration for architectural modifications. Although YOLOv5 is a generic object detector, it is not optimized for the detection of small objects, and therefore cannot adapt to specific use cases in practice.

This letter proposes architectural improvements to the original YOLOv5 model to perform better in terms of small object detection. For this, we consider the actual road environment in autonomous driving systems to detect small road objects like traffic signs and traffic lights. Moreover, we will discuss the effects of our modifications on how to accurately perform this task while maintaining real-time speed and with a slight increase in the computational complexity of the system. The highlights of our contributions are

We optimize the existing YOLOv5 model and design a modified YOLOv5 architecture, with the name iS-YOLOv5, aiming for better detection of small objects in autonomous driving scenarios.

We investigate the applicability of our model in diverse weather scenarios to highlight its significance in the context of more robust and efficient object detection.

Extensive experimentation on BDD100K dataset demonstrates the efficacy of the proposed model. Moreover, we provide empirical results for traffic sign and traffic light detection on TT100K and DTLD datasets, respectively.

Section snippets

Related Work

Over the years, many researchers have shown a significant interest in developing and employing deep learning-based models for performance enhancement in object detection tasks. With the advent of the YOLO series [6], [10], various applications have utilized YOLO and its architectural successors for object detection due to their real-time detection speed rather than considering detection accuracy. Hence, many investigative studies have proposed applying the YOLO models in autonomous driving

(Video) Object Detection in 10 minutes with YOLOv5 & Python!


We first discuss the motivations of our work (Section3.1). Then, we provide a brief overview of YOLOv5 architecture and discuss its shortcomings (Section3.2). Finally, a series of novel architectural changes are introduced to optimize and improve the detection performance of small objects (Section3.3).

Experimental Results

In this section, we describe the autonomous driving datasets, training environment, and performance evaluation indicators. Thereafter, we verify the superiority of the proposed method through several experiments.


In this letter, we study and analyze the effect of different architectural modifications applied to the popular YOLOv5 structure for improving the detection performance of small-scale objects without sacrificing the detection accuracy of large objects. To achieve this, we make refinements for optimizing the flow of information through different network layers. Accordingly, we propose the iS-YOLOv5 model, which is capable of boosting the detection accuracy and speed without greatly increasing

Declaration of Competing Interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

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