Toward Transformer-Based Object Detection

Transformers have become the dominant model in natural language processing, owing to their ability to pretrain on massive amounts of data, then transfer to smaller, more specific tasks via fine-tuning. The Vision Transformer was the first major attempt to apply a pure transformer model directly to images as input, demonstrating that as compared to convolutional networks, transformer-based architectures can achieve competitive results on benchmark classification tasks. However, the computational complexity of the attention operator means that we are limited to low-resolution inputs. For more complex tasks such as detection or segmentation, maintaining a high input resolution is crucial to ensure that models can properly identify and reflect fine details in their output. This naturally raises the question of whether or not transformer-based architectures such as the Vision Transformer are capable of performing tasks other than classification. In this paper, we determine that Vision Transformers can be used as a backbone by a common detection task head to produce competitive COCO results. The model that we propose, ViT-FRCNN, demonstrates several known properties associated with transformers, including large pretraining capacity and fast fine-tuning performance. We also investigate improvements over a standard detection backbone, including superior performance on out-of-domain images, better performance on large objects, and a lessened reliance on non-maximum suppression. We view ViT-FRCNN as an important stepping stone toward a pure-transformer solution of complex vision tasks such as object detection.

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