Learning Lightweight Object Detectors via Multi-Teacher Progressive Distillation
Proceedings of the 40th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 202:3577-3598, 2023.
Resource-constrained perception systems such as edge computing and vision-for-robotics require vision models to be both accurate and lightweight in computation and memory usage. While knowledge distillation is a proven strategy to enhance the performance of lightweight classification models, its application to structured outputs like object detection and instance segmentation remains a complicated task, due to the variability in outputs and complex internal network modules involved in the distillation process. In this paper, we propose a simple yet surprisingly effective sequential approach to knowledge distillation that progressively transfers the knowledge of a set of teacher detectors to a given lightweight student. To distill knowledge from a highly accurate but complex teacher model, we construct a sequence of teachers to help the student gradually adapt. Our progressive strategy can be easily combined with existing detection distillation mechanisms to consistently maximize student performance in various settings. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to successfully distill knowledge from Transformer-based teacher detectors to convolution-based students, and unprecedentedly boost the performance of ResNet-50 based RetinaNet from 36.5% to 42.0% AP and Mask R-CNN from 38.2% to 42.5% AP on the MS COCO benchmark. Code available at https://github.com/Shengcao-Cao/MTPD.