HEAD: HEtero-Assists Distillation for Heterogeneous Object Detectors

Luting Wang, Xiaojie Li, Yue Liao, Zeren Jiang, Jianlong Wu, Fei Wang, Chen Qian, Si Liu ;


"Conventional knowledge distillation (KD) methods for object detection mainly concentrate on homogeneous teacher-student detectors. However, the design of a lightweight detector for deployment is often significantly different from a high-capacity detector. Thus, we investigate KD among heterogeneous teacher-student pairs for a wide application. We observe that the core difficulty for heterogeneous KD (hetero-KD) is the significant semantic gap between the backbone features of heterogeneous detectors due to the different optimization manners. Conventional homogeneous KD (homo-KD) methods suffer from such a gap and are hard to directly obtain satisfactory performance for hetero-KD. In this paper, we propose the HEtero-Assists Distillation (HEAD) framework, leveraging heterogeneous detection heads as assistants to guide the optimization of the student detector to reduce this gap. In HEAD, the assistant is an additional detection head with the architecture homogeneous to the teacher head attached to the student backbone. Thus, a hetero-KD is transformed into a homo-KD, allowing efficient knowledge transfer from the teacher to the student. Moreover, we extend HEAD into a Teacher-Free HEAD (TF-HEAD) framework when a well-trained teacher detector is unavailable. Our method has achieved significant improvement compared to current detection KD methods. For example, on the MS-COCO dataset, TF-HEAD helps R18 RetinaNet achieve 33.9 mAP (+2.2), while HEAD further pushes the limit to 36.2 mAP (+4.5)."

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