Detecting small objects (e.g., manhole covers, license plates, and roadside milestones) in urban images is a long-standing challenge mainly due to the scale of small object and background clutter. Although convolution neural network (CNN)-based methods have made significant progress and achieved impressive results in generic object detection, the problem of small object detection remains unsolved. To address this challenge, in this study we developed an end-to-end network architecture that has three significant characteristics compared to previous works. First, we designed a backbone network module, namely Reduced Downsampling Network (RD-Net), to extract informative feature representations with high spatial resolutions and preserve local information for small objects. Second, we introduced an Adjustable Sample Selection (ADSS) module which frees the Intersection-over-Union (IoU) threshold hyperparameters and defines positive and negative training samples based on statistical characteristics between generated anchors and ground reference bounding boxes. Third, we incorporated the generalized Intersection-over-Union (GIoU) loss for bounding box regression, which efficiently bridges the gap between distance-based optimization loss and area-based evaluation metrics. We demonstrated the effectiveness of our method by performing extensive experiments on the public Urban Element Detection (UED) dataset acquired by Mobile Mapping Systems (MMS). The Average Precision (AP
) of the proposed method was 81.71%, representing an improvement of 1.2% compared with the popular detection framework Faster R-CNN.
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