Object Detection under Rainy Conditions for Autonomous Vehicles

06/30/2020 ∙ by Mazin Hnewa, et al. ∙ Michigan State University 0

Advanced automotive active-safety systems, in general, and autonomous vehicles, in particular, rely heavily on visual data to classify and localize objects such as pedestrians, traffic signs and lights, and other nearby cars, to assist the corresponding vehicles maneuver safely in their environments. However, the performance of object detection methods could degrade rather significantly under challenging weather scenarios including rainy conditions. Despite major advancements in the development of deraining approaches, the impact of rain on object detection has largely been understudied, especially in the context of autonomous driving. The main objective of this paper is to present a tutorial on state-of-the-art and emerging techniques that represent leading candidates for mitigating the influence of rainy conditions on an autonomous vehicle's ability to detect objects. Our goal includes surveying and analyzing the performance of object detection methods trained and tested using visual data captured under clear and rainy conditions. Moreover, we survey and evaluate the efficacy and limitations of leading deraining approaches, deep-learning based domain adaptation, and image translation frameworks that are being considered for addressing the problem of object detection under rainy conditions. Experimental results of a variety of the surveyed techniques are presented as part of this tutorial.



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I Introduction

Visual data plays a critical role in enabling automotive Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles achieve high levels of safety while maneuvering in their environments. Hence, emerging autonomous vehicles are employing cameras and deep learning based methods for object detection and classification [chen2015deepdriving, wu2017squeezedet, teichmann2018multinet]

. These methods predict bounding boxes that surround detected objects as well as class probabilities associated with each bounding box. In particular, Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) based approaches have shown very promising results in the detection of pedestrians, vehicles, and other objects

[girshick2014rich, girshick2015fast, FasterRCNN, RetinaNet, YOLO, liu2016ssd, R-FCN]. These neural networks are usually trained using a large amount of visual data captured under favorable clear conditions. However, the performance of such systems under challenging weather, such as rainy conditions has not been thoroughly surveyed or studied.

The quality of visual signals captured by autonomous vehicles can be impaired and distorted in adverse weather conditions, most notably under rain, snow and fog. Such conditions minimize scene contrast and visibility, and this could lead to a significant degradation in the ability of the vehicle to detect critical objects in the environment. Depending on the visual effect, adverse weather conditions can be classified into: steady (such as fog, mist, and haze) and dynamic, which has more complex effects (such as rain and snow) [garg2004detection]. In this paper, we focus on rain because it is the most common dynamic challenging weather condition that impacts virtually every populated region of the globe. Furthermore, there has been a great deal of recent efforts that attempt to mitigate the effect of rain in the context of visual processing. While addressing the effect of other weather conditions has been receiving some, yet minimal attention, the volume of work regarding the mitigation of rain is by far more prevalent and salient within different research communities. It is worth noting that rain comprises of countless drops that have a wide range of sizes and complex shapes; and rain spreads quite randomly with varying speeds when falling on roadways, pavements, vehicles, pedestrians and other objects in the scene. Moreover, raindrops naturally cause intensity variations in images and video frames. In particular, every raindrop blocks some of the light that is reflected by objects in a scene. In addition, rain streaks lead to low contrast and elevated levels of whiteness in visual data. Consequently, mitigating the effect of rain on visual data is arguably one of the most challenging tasks that autonomous vehicles will have to perform due to the fact that it is quite challenging to detect and isolate raindrops, and it is equally difficult to restore the information that is lost or occluded by rain.

Meanwhile, there has been noticeable progress in the development of advanced visual deraining algorithms [6099619, yang2017deep, DNN, DeRaindrop, PReNet, wang2019spatial]

. Thus, one natural and intuitive solution for mitigating the effect of rain on active safety systems and autonomous vehicles is to employ robust deraining algorithms and then apply the desired object detection approach on the resulting derained signal. State-of-the-art deraining algorithms, however, are designed to remove the visual impairments caused by rain while attempting to restore the original signal with minimal distortion. Hence, the primary objective of these algorithms, in general, is to preserve the visual quality as measured by popular performance metrics, such as Peak-Signal-to-Noise-Ratio (PSNR) and structure similarity index (SSIM)

[SSIM]. These metrics, however, do not reflect a viable measure for analyzing the performance of the system for more complex tasks such as object detection.

The main objective of this paper is to survey and present a tutorial on state-of-the-art and emerging techniques that are leading candidates for mitigating the influence of rainy conditions on an autonomous vehicle’s ability to detect objects111Although autonomous vehicles employ a variety of sensing modalities for the detection of objects, the focus of this paper is on object detection under rainy conditions using a single vision camera. A primary reason for this focus is the lack of publicly available data that is captured by other sensing modalities under rainy conditions and that is properly annotated and labeled with accurate weather information. Other reasons include the lack of literature regarding mitigating techniques for object detection under rainy conditions using other sensing modalities (i.e., other than single-vision cameras).

. In that context, our goal includes surveying and analyzing the performance of object detection methods that are representatives of state-of-the-art frameworks, which are being considered for integration into autonomous vehicles’ artificial intelligence (AI) platforms. Furthermore, we survey and highlight the inherent limitations of leading deraining algorithms, deep-learning based domain adaptation, and image translation frameworks in the context of rainy conditions. While surveying a variety of relevant techniques in this area, we present experimental results with the objective of highlighting the urgent need for developing new paradigms for addressing the challenges of autonomous driving under severe weather conditions. Although generative model-based image translation and domain adaptation approaches do show some promise, one overarching conclusion that we aim to convey through this article is that current solutions do not adequately mitigate the realistic challenges for autonomous driving under diverse weather conditions. This overarching conclusion opens the door for the research community to pursue and explore new frameworks that address this timely and crucial problem area. The outline of the remainder of this article is summarized in Figure

1 and it includes:

Fig. 1: Architectures highlighting the main parts of the paper.
  1. [leftmargin=*]

  2. Deep learning based object detection methods for autonomous vehicles and their performance under clear and rainy conditions: After surveying two major classes of object detection frameworks, we provide an insight into the impact of rain on these popular deep learning based object detection methods, which are representative of detection frameworks employed by autonomous vehicles.

  3. Deraining algorithms and their limitations in improving the performance of object detection for autonomous vehicles: We survey state-of-the-art deraining algorithms [DNN, DeRaindrop, PReNet] that represent leading and arguably intuitive candidates for mitigating the impact of rain. We illustrate the performance of these algorithms when cascaded with object detection. This overall framework provides a mechanism for studying the efficacy and limitations of deraining algorithms in the context of autonomous driving.

  4. Alternative training approaches for deep learning based object detection under rainy conditions:

    To address the problem of domain shift between natural rainy data and clear data for moving vehicles, one can resort to new promising approaches that include domain adaptation and image-to-image translation. In this part of the paper, we survey leading candidates for these approaches, which can be employed for training the detection methods using natural rainy data without the need to annotate the objects found in the data.

Ii Object detection for autonomous vehicles under clear and rainy conditions

The level of degradation in the performance of an object detection method, trained under certain condition, is influenced heavily by: (a) How different the training and testing domains are; and (b) The type of deep-learning based architecture used for object detection. Most recent object detectors are CNN based networks such as SSD [liu2016ssd], R-FCN [R-FCN], YOLO [YOLO], RetinaNet [RetinaNet], and Faster R-CNN[FasterRCNN]. To that end, we review two major classes of object detection frameworks that are both popular and representative of deep learning based approaches. As we will see later in this tutorial, these two classes of architectures exhibit different levels and forms of degradation in response to challenging rainy conditions, and they also perform rather differently in conjunction with potential rain mitigation frameworks. In particular, we briefly describe the underlying architectures for Faster R-CNN and YOLO as representatives of two major classes of object detection algorithms. Faster R-CNN is arguably the most popular among object detection algorithms that are based on a two-stage deep learning architecture, one stage is for identifying region proposals and the second stage is for refining and assigning class probabilities for the corresponding regions. YOLO, on the other hand, is a representative of detection frameworks that operate on the whole image directly.

Ii-a Deep learning based methods for object detection

The utility of Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) for object detection was well established prior to the introduction of the notion of region proposals, or commonly known as R-CNN [girshick2014rich], where the ”R” stands for regions or region proposals. A fast version of R-CNN was later introduced[girshick2015fast], and then Ren et al. [FasterRCNN] introduced the idea of Region Proposal Network (RPN) that shares convolutional layers with Fast R-CNN[girshick2015fast]. RPN is merged with Fast R-CNN into one unified network that is known as Faster R-CNN to achieve more computationally efficient detection. Under Faster R-CNN, an input image is fed to a feature extractor such as the ZF model [ZF] or VGG-16 [VGG16] to produce a feature map. Then, RPN utilizes this feature map to predict region proposals (regions in the image that could potentially contain objects of interest). In that context, many region proposals are quite overlapped with each other with significant numbers of pixels common among multiple region proposals. To filter out the substantial redundancy that might occur with such framework, Non-Maximum Suppression (NMS) [felzenszwalb2009object]

is used to remove redundant regions while keeping the ones that have the highest prediction scores. Subsequently, each regional proposal that survives the NMS process is used by a Region of Interest (RoI) pooling layer to crop the corresponding features from the feature map. This cropping process produces a feature vector that is fed to two fully connected layers: one layer predicts offset values of a bounding box of object with respect to the regional proposal, and the other layer predicts class probabilities for the predicted bounding box. Figure

2 shows a high-level architecture of Faster R-CNN.

Fig. 2: The high-level architectures of the detection methods that are used in this tutorial. The domain adaptation of Faster R-CNN is explained in Section IV-B.

On the other hand, Redmon et at. [YOLO] proposed to treat object detection as a regression problem, and they developed a unified neural network that is called YOLO (stands for You Only Look Once) to predict bounding boxes and class probabilities directly from a full image in one evaluation. Under YOLO, an input image is divided into a specific set of grid cells. And each cell is responsible for detecting objects where their centers are located within that cell. To that end, each cell predicts a certain number of bounding boxes, and it also predicts the confidence scores for these boxes in terms of the likelihood that they contain an object. Furthermore, it predicts conditional class probabilities given it has an object of a particular class. In this case, there are potentially many wrongly predicted bounding boxes. To filter them out and provide the final detection result, a threshold is used on the confidence scores of the predicted bounding boxes. Figure 2 shows the general architecture of YOLO.

Ii-B Object detection performance for neural network architectures under clear and rainy conditions

Here, we provide an insight into the level of degradation caused by rainy conditions on the performance of the two major deep learning architectures described above. In particular, we focus on the following fundamental question: how much degradation a deep neural network, which is trained under clear conditions, will suffer when tested under rainy weather. In that context, we first describe the data set that we used for training and testing; and this is followed by presenting some visual and numerical results. For the purpose of this tutorial, we needed a rich data set that is captured under diverse weather conditions. Despite the fact that there are few notable data sets [kitti, Cityscapes, MVD2017]

, which are quite popular among the computer vision and AI research communities in terms of training deep neural networks, there is only one (arguably two

[yu2018bdd100k][nuscenes2019]) that is properly labeled and annotated for our purpose, and hence, it could be used for training and testing for different weather conditions. In particular, we use the Berkeley Deep Drive data set (BDD100K) [yu2018bdd100k] because it contains image tagging for weather (i.e. each image in the data set is labeled with its weather condition such as clear, rainy, foggy, etc). Meanwhile, although some other data sets, such as nuScenes [nuscenes2019], might contain some visuals captured under rainy conditions, these data sets do not have weather tagging. Hence, choosing the BDD100k data set was influenced by the fact that we can select images under a specific weather condition. Moreover, BDD100K has 100,000 video clips captured under diverse geographic, environmental, and weather conditions. It is worth noting that only one selected frame from each video is annotated with object bounding boxes as well as image level tagging. Examples of annotated frames in clear and rainy weathers are shown in Figure 3. In this article, we consider the four classes (vehicle, pedestrian, traffic light, and traffic sign) that are labeled and provided as ground truth objects within the BDD100K data set. Naturally, these four classes are among the most critical objects for an autonomous vehicle. In this tutorial, we use images that are captured in clear weather from the designated training set of BDD100K to form our underlying training data set. We refer to this training data as the train clear set, which we used consistently to train the detection methods for the different scenarios covered in this article. For testing, we use a set of clear weather images from the testing set of BDD100K. We refer to this later set as the test clear set. Table I shows the number of annotated objects in the train clear and test clear data sets.

Fig. 3: Examples of annotated images in BDD100K data set [yu2018bdd100k]. Images in the top row are tagged as clear weather, and images in the middle and bottom rows are tagged as being captured in rainy weather. However, images in the bottom row are wrongly tagged as being rainy weather, but they are actually in clear or cloudy weather.

One approach to demonstrate the impact of rain on object detection methods, which are trained under clear conditions, is by rendering synthetic rain [realistic_rain_rendering, photorealistic, Adobe_after] within the images of the test clear set. Then, the synthetic rainy data can be used to test the already trained object detection methods. The benefit of this approach is that one would have the exact same underlying content in both testing data sets in terms of the objects within the scene, but one set representing the original clear weather content when the data was captured, and another set with the synthetic rain. This would clearly show the impact of rain as the visual objects are the same in both tested sets (the test clear set and a test synthetic rain set). However, from our extensive experience in this area, we noticed that most well-known rain simulation methods do not render realistic rain that viably captures actual and true rainy weather conditions, especially for a driving vehicle. Thus, when comparing the two scenarios, this discrepancy between synthetic and natural (real) rainy conditions will lead to domain mismatch. As a result, we do not test the detection methods using synthetic rain in our study because this will not demonstrate the impact of true natural rain on a driving vehicle.

Alternatively, we use images captured under real rainy conditions from the training and testing sets of the BDD100K data set to test the object detection methods. It is worth noting that several images in the data set are wrongly tagged as being ”rainy weather”, but they are actually in clear or cloudy weather such as the examples shown in the bottom row of Figure 3. To solve this problem, we manually select the images that are truly captured in rainy weather to form what we refer to as the test rainy set. Equally important, we elected to have both the test clear and test rainy sets approximately having the same number of annotated objects as shown in Table I in order to provide statistically comparable results.

Set Vehicles Pedestrians Traffic signs Traffic lights
Train clear 149,548 16777 43866 26002
Test clear 13721 2397 3548 4239
Test rainy 13724 2347 3551 4246
TABLE I: Number of annotated objects in training and testing sets that are used in our study.

It is important to make one final critical note regarding the currently available data sets for training neural networks designed for object detection. The lack of data sets captured under diverse conditions including rain, snow, fog and other weather scenarios represents one of the most challenging aspects of achieving viable level of training for autonomous vehicles. Even for the BDD100K data set, which is one of very few publicly available data sets with properly annotated objects captured under different weather conditions, there is not sufficiently annotated visual content within BDD100K that is truly viable for training under rainy weather. This fundamental issue with the lack of real training data for rainy and other conditions has become clearly a major obstacle to the extent that leading high-tech companies working in the area have begun a focused effort designated specifically for collecting data under rainy conditions222For example, Waymo recently announced their plans to begin collecting data for autonomous driving under rainy conditions[Waymo-Florida]..

Ii-C Performance metric

To evaluate the performance of detection, we compute the mean Average Precision (mAP). This metric has been the most popular performance measure since the time when it was originally defined in the PASCAL Visual Object Classes Challenge 2012 for evaluating detection methods [2011pascal]. To determine mAP, precision/recall curve is firstly computed based on the prediction result against the ground truth. A prediction is considered a true positive if its bounding box: (a) has Intersection-over-Union (IoU) value greater than 0.5 relative to the corresponding ground truth bounding box, and (b) has the same class label as the ground truth. Then, the curve is updated by making precision monotonically decreasing. This is achieved by setting the precision for recall to the maximum precision obtained for any recall . Average Precision (AP) is the area under the updated precision/recall curve. It is computed by numerical integration. Finally, mAP is the mean of AP among all classes.

Ii-D Results and Discussion

We trained the detection methods (Faster R-CNN and YOLO) using the train clear set, which is described in section II-B. We used the same training settings and hyper-parameters that were used in the original papers [FasterRCNN][YOLO]. Then, we tested the trained models using the test clear and test rainy sets to illustrate the impact of rain. Table II shows average precision (AP) for each class as well as the mean average precision (mAP) evaluated based on the AP values of the classes. From the table, we observe that mAP clearly declines in rainy weather as compared to clear weather using both Faster R-CNN and YOLO. Consequently, these results undoubtedly illustrate that the performance of an object detection framework, which is trained using clear visuals, could significantly degrade under rainy weather conditions. The performance decreases due to the fact that rain covers and distorts important details of the underlying visual features, which are used by detection methods to classify and localize objects. Figure 4 shows examples when the detection methods fail to detect most objects under rainy conditions.

Mitigating technique Faster R-CNN YOLO-V3
None (clear conditions*) 72.61 40.99 26.07 38.12 44.45 76.57 37.12 46.22 50.56 52.62
None (rainy conditions**) 67.84 32.58 20.52 35.04 39.00 74.15 32.07 41.07 50.27 49.39
Deraining DDN [DNN] 67.00 28.55 20.02 35.55 37.78 73.07 29.89 40.05 48.74 47.94
Deraining DeRaindrop [DeRaindrop] 64.37 29.27 18.32 33.33 36.32 70.77 30.16 37.70 48.03 46.66
Deraining PReNet [PReNet] 63.69 24.39 17.40 31.68 34.29 70.83 27.36 35.49 43.78 44.36
Image translation UNIT [unit] 68.47 32.76 18.85 36.20 39.07 74.14 34.19 41.18 48.41 49.48
Domain adaptation [chen2018domain] 67.36 34.89 19.24 35.49 39.24 Not applicable
TABLE II: Average precision (AP) for each class, and mean average precision (mAP) evaluated based on the AP values of the classes. V-AP: vehicle, P-AP: pedestrian, TL-AP: traffic light, and TS-AP: traffic sign average precision. *The top row shows the performance under clear conditions (i.e., using the test clear set), while all other rows show the performance under rainy conditions (i.e., using the test rainy set). **Significant degradation in performance can be observed due to rainy conditions (text in red) relative to the performance under clear conditions (top row). Improvements in performance by mitigating the effect of rain can be observed using generative model-based image translation and/or domain adaptation (highlighted in bold). Meanwhile, deraining algorithms do not improve, and most of the time further degrade the performance.
Fig. 4: Examples of detection results using Faster R-CNN and YOLO for different visual scenes from test rainy set

Moreover, one can notice that under rainy conditions the average precision for the pedestrian and traffic light classes declines more significantly than the decline in performance for vehicle and traffic sign classes. This discrepancy in performance degradation for different objects is due to a variety of factors. For example, vehicles usually occupy larger regions within an image frame than other types of objects; and hence, even when raindrops or rain streaks cover a visual of a vehicle, there are still sufficient features that can be extracted by the detection method. Furthermore, traffic signs are normally made from materials that have high reflectivity, which makes it easier for an object detection method to achieve higher accuracy even when a traffic sign visual is distorted with some rain. Overall, in both cases, the important features needed for reliable detection are still salient within the underlying deep neural networks of the detection algorithms. Nevertheless, rain still could impact the detection of vehicle and traffic signs as shown in the bottom three rows of Figure 4.

Iii Deraining in conjunction with object detection

Deraining methods attempt to remove the effect of rain and restore an image of a scene that has been distorted by raindrops or rain streaks while preserving important visual details. In this tutorial, we review three recently developed deraining algorithms [DNN, DeRaindrop, PReNet] that employ deep learning frameworks for the removal of rain from a scene. The high-level architectures of these methods are shown in Figure 5. Below, we briefly describe these three deraining methods and highlight their limitations when employing them in conjunction with object detection methods.

Iii-a Deep Detail Network

Fu et at. [DNN] proposed a Deep Detail Network (DDN) to remove rain from a single image. They employed a convolutional neural network (CNN), which is ResNet [ResNet] to predict the difference between clear and rainy images, and use this difference to remove rain from a scene. In particular, DDN exploits the rainy image’s high frequency details only, and it uses such details as input to ResNet while ignoring the low frequency background (interference) of the same underlying scene.

Fig. 5: General architectures of the used deraining methods (DDN [DNN], DeRaindrop [DeRaindrop], and PReNet [PReNet]).

Iii-B Attentive Generative Adversarial Network

Qian et at. [DeRaindrop] proposed attentive generative adversarial network that is called ”DeRaindrop” to remove raindrops from images. In this method, a generative adversarial network (GAN) [GAN]

with visual attention is employed to learn raindrop areas and their surroundings. The first part of the generative network, known as the Attentive-Recurrent Network (ARN), produces an attention map to guide the next stage of the DeRaindrop framework. ARN includes ResNet, a Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM)


, and CNN layers. The second stage of DeRaindrop, which is known as Contextual Autoencoder, operates on the attention map and hence it focuses on (or ”pay more attention” to) the raindrop areas. The overall process from the two stages is expected to clean images free of raindrops. The architecture also includes a discriminative network, which assesses the generated rain-free images to verify that they are similar to real ones that have been used during the training process.

Iii-C Progressive Image Deraining Network

Ren et at. [PReNet]

proposed a Progressive Recurrent Network (PReNet) to recursively remove rain from a single image. At each iteration, some rain is removed, and the remaining rain can be progressively removed in subsequent iterations. Consequently, after a certain number of iterations, most of the rain should be removed leading to a rain-free quality image. In addition to several residual blocks of ResNet, PReNet includes a CNN layer that operates on both the original rainy image and current output image. PReNet also includes another CNN layer to generate the output image. Furthermore, a recurrent layer is appended to exploit dependencies of deep features across iterations via convolutional LSTM. To train PReNet, a single negative SSIM

[SSIM] or MSE loss is used.

Iii-D Results and Discussion

To demonstrate the performance of the deraining methods outlined above, we apply the pretrained deraining models provided by the corresponding authors to test rainy set as a prepossessing step. After applying the deraining algorithms, which are anticipated to remove the rain from the input visual data and generate rain-free “clear” visuals, we feed the derained images into the object detection methods. Table II shows the performance of the detection methods after applying the deraining approaches. It can be seen that the deraining algorithms actually degrade the detection performance when compared to directly using the rainy images as input into the corresponding detection frameworks. This is true for both Faster R-CNN and YOLO. One important factor for this degradation in performance is that the deraining process tends to smooth out the input image, and hence, it distorts meaningful information and distinctive features of a scene while attempting to remove the effect of rain from the same scene. In particular, it is rather easy to observe that state-of-the-art deraining algorithms smooth out edges of objects in an image, which leads to a loss of critical information and features. Such information and features are essential for enabling the detection algorithms to classify and localize objects. The images in the top two rows of Figure 6, which represent outputs of Faster R-CNN and YOLO, show some of the objects that are not detected after using the deraining methods, while they are successfully detected if rainy images are directly used as input into the detection algorithms.

Fig. 6: Examples of detection results for different visual scenes without employing any deraining methods, and with employing deraining methods (DDN [DNN], DeRaindrop [DeRaindrop], and PReNet [PReNet]) in conjunction with the detection methods. Objects were detected using Faster R-CNN [FasterRCNN] in the first group of images, and YOLO [redmon2018yolov3] in the second group.

A related critical issue to highlight about current deraining algorithms is their inability to remove natural raindrops found in realistic scenes captured by moving vehicles. The root-cause of this issue is the fact that deraining algorithms have been largely designed and tested using synthetic rain visuals superimposed on the underlying scenes. What aggravates this issue is that, at least in some cases, the background environments used to design and test deraining algorithms are predominantly static scenes with minimal moving objects. Consequently, the salient differences between such synthetic scenarios and the realistic environment encountered by a vehicle that is moving under natural rain represents a domain mismatch that is too much to handle by current deraining algorithms, and this leads to their failure under realistic conditions for autonomous vehicles. Hence, overall, we believe that relying purely on state-of-the-art deraining solutions does not represent a viable approach for mitigating the impact of rain on object detection. The images shown in Figure 6, especially some of the cases in the bottom two rows, illustrate examples of the failure of deraining methods to improve the performance of object detection.

Iv Alternative training approaches for deep learning based object detection

The requirement that autonomous driving systems are expected to work reliably under different weather conditions, is at odds with the fact that the training data is usually collected in dry weather with good visibility. Thus, performance of object detection algorithms degrades under challenging weather conditions as we showed in Section


One simple approach to address this problem is to train a given CNN for the detection of objects using images captured in real rainy weather. As we highlighted earlier, sufficient annotated data sets captured by moving vehicles in realistic urban environments under natural rainy conditions are not readily available. To that end, and in spite of the fact that some data sets are available, the very few data sets captured under real rainy conditions are not properly annotated [yu2018bdd100k]. Having such small data sets inherently make them inadequate to reliably train deep learning architectures for objection detection. Furthermore, annotating whatever available data captured under real rainy conditions with accurate bounding boxes is an expensive and time-consuming process. An alternative approach for addressing the lack of real data issue is to train detection methods using synthetic rain data. However, and as we highlighted earlier, the trained methods generalize poorly on real data due to domain shift between synthetic rain and natural rain. To solve this issue, we review approaches that can be employed for training the detection methods using annotated clear data in conjunction with unannotated rainy data. In particular, we review and survey two emerging frameworks for addressing this critical issue: image translation and domain adaptation.

Iv-a Unsupervised image-to-image translation

Image-to-image translation (I2IT) is a well-known computer vision framework that translates images from one domain (e.g., captured under clear weather) to another domain (e.g., rainy conditions) while preserving underlying and critical visual contents of the input images. In short, I2IT attempts to learn a joint distribution of images in different domains. The learning process can be classified into:

supervised setting where the training data set consists of paired examples of the same exact scene captured in both domains (e.g., clear and rainy conditions), and unsupervised

setting where different examples of both domains are used for training; hence, these examples do not have to be taken from the same corresponding scene. The unsupervised case is inherently more challenging than supervised learning. More importantly, to address the main issue we are facing in the context of the lack of data needed for training object detection architectures under realistic conditions, we consequently need an unsupervised setting. In particular, the requirement of having a very large set of image pairs, where each pair of images must be of the exact same scene captured under different domains, render supervised I2IT solutions virtually useless for our purpose. In fact, this requirement imposes more constraints than the lack of data issue that we are already trying to address. Hence, and despite the availability of well-known supervised learning based techniques in this area

[pix2pix][SRGAN], we have to resort to unsupervised solutions to address the problem at hand.

Recently, Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) [GAN] have been achieving very promising performance results in the area of image translation [unit, pix2pix, SRGAN, cycleGan, bicycleGAN]. In general, a GAN consists of a generator and a discriminator. The generator is trained to fool the discriminator, while the later is attempting to distinguish (or discriminate) between real natural images on one hand and fake images, which are generated by the trained generator, on the other hand. By doing this, GANs align the distribution of translated images with real images in the target domain.

As mentioned above, data sets that have paired clear-rainy images in driving environment is not publicly available. As a result, we use UNsupervised Image-to-image Translation (UNIT) [unit] to translate clear images to rainy ones since the training process for the UNIT framework does not require paired images of the same scene. In other words, training UNIT requires two independent sets of images where one consists of images in one domain, and another set consists of images in another domain. The high-level architecture of the UNIT model is shown in Figure 7. First, the encoder network maps an input image to a shared latent code (a shared compact representation of an image in both domains). Then, the generator network uses the shared latent code to generate an image in the desired domain.

To train the UNIT model that learns the mapping from clear images to rainy ones, we use the train clear set that consists of clear-weather annotated images as the source domain. For the target rainy domain, we extract a sufficiently large number of images from the rainy videos of BDD100K data set. Subsequently, we apply images in the train clear set to the trained UNIT model to generate rainy images. We refer to the images that are generated by the UNIT model as the train gen rainy set. Examples of generated rainy images are shown in Figure 8.

Fig. 7: The high-level architecture of the UNIT model [unit] to generate images.
Fig. 8: Examples of generated images by the trained UNIT model, left: original clear images, right: generated rainy images.

Eventually, we use the train gen rainy data set to train the detection methods. This is followed by using the test rain data set to evaluate the average precision performance of the detection methods, which are now trained using the generated rainy set. We also calculate the mean average precision (mAP) as we have done for other approaches. Table II shows the performance of detection methods that are trained using generated rainy images by the UNIT model.

Iv-B Domain adaptation

Domain adaptation is another potentially viable framework that could be considered to address the major challenges that we have been highlighting in this tutorial regarding: (a) the salient mismatch between the two domains, clear and rainy weather conditions, and (b) the lack of annotated training data captured under rainy conditions. In particular, a domain adaptation framework [chen2018domain] has been designed and developed specifically for Faster R-CNN due to the fact that it is among the most popular object detection approaches333At this point, we are not aware of other domain adaptation frameworks that have been designed and developed for YOLO. Consequently, given the tutorial nature of this paper, we only review domain adaptation that has already been developed for Faster R-CNN [chen2018domain].. The framework developed in [chen2018domain] adapts deep learning based object detection to a target domain that is different from the training domain without requiring any annotations in the target domain. In particular, it employs the adversarial training strategy [GAN]

to learn robust features that are domain-invariant. In other words, it makes the distribution of features extracted from images in the two domain indistinguishable.

The architecture for Domain Adaptive Faster R-CNN model [chen2018domain] is shown in Figure 2. There are two levels of domain adaptation that are employed. First, an image-level domain classifier is used. At this level, the global attributes, such as the image style, illumination, etc. of the input image are used to distinguish between the source and target domains. Thus, the (global) feature map resulting from the common CNN feature extractor of the Faster R-CNN detector is used as input toward the image-level domain classifier. Second, an instance-level domain classifier is employed. This classifier uses the specific features associated with a particular region to distinguish between the two domains. Hence, the instance-level domain classifier uses the feature vector resulting from the fully connected layers (FCs) at the output of the RoI Pooling Layer of the Faster R-CNN detector. The two classifiers, the image- and instance-level ones, should naturally agree in terms of their binary classification decision regarding if the input image belongs to the source or target domain. Consequently, a consistency regularization stage combines the output of the two classifiers to promote consistency between the two classifier outcomes.

While the two domain adaptation classifiers are optimized to differentiate between the source and target domains, the Faster R-CNN detector must be optimized such that it becomes domain-independent or domain-invariant. In other words, the Faster R-CNN detector must detect objects regardless of the input image domain (clear or rainy). Hence, the feature map resulting from the Faster R-CNN feature extractor must be domain-invariant. To that end, this feature extractor should be trained and optimized to maximize the domain classification error achieved by the domain adaptation stage. Thus, while both the image- and instance-level domain classifiers are designed to minimize the binary-classification error (between the source and target domains), the Faster R-CNN feature extractor is designed to maximize the same binary-classification error. To achieve this contradictory objectives, a Gradient Reversal Layer (GRL) [GRL] is employed. Thus, GRL is a bidirectional operator that is used to realize two different optimization objectives. In the feed-forward direction, the GRL acts as an identity operator. This leads to the standard objective of minimizing the classification error when performing localbackpropagation within the domain adaptation network. On the other hand, for backpropagation toward the Faster R-CNN network, the GRL becomes a negative scalar. Hence, in this case, it leads to maximizing the binary-classification error; and this maximization promotes the generation of domain-invariant feature map by the Faster R-CNN feature extractor.

Consequently, for the purpose of this tutorial, we developed and employed a domain adaptive faster R-CNN [chen2018domain] under rainy conditions. To train this model, we prepare the training data to include two sets: source data, which consists of images captured in clear weather (and this set includes data annotations in terms of bounding boxes coordinates and object categories), and target data, which only consists of images captured under rainy conditions without any annotations. To validate the trained model using domain adaptation, we tested it using the test rainy set. The performance of the detection method (Faster R-CNN) that are trained by the domain adaptation approach is shown in the bottom row of Table II.

Iv-C Discussion

Based on the results in Table II, we observe that while deraining algorithms degrade the average precision performance when tested on scenes distorted by natural rain, improvements can be achieved when employing image-to-image translation and domain adaptation as mitigating techniques. Different cases are shown in Figure 9.

In terms of average precision, and as an example, rainy conditions degrade the pedestrian detection capabilities for YOLO by more than five percents (from around 37 to around 32); but by using image translation, the performance is improved to an average precision of more than 34, and consequently, narrowing the gap between clear and rainy conditions’ performances. Similarly, both image translation and domain adaptation improves the traffic-signs detection performance for Faster R-CNN. Furthermore, image translation seem to improve the vehicle detection performance under Faster R-CNN.

Fig. 9: Examples of detection results using alternative training approaches for Faster R-CNN and YOLO are shown in the rightmost column. The top-right image shows improvement in vehicle and traffic sign detection when generated images by I2IT (the UNIT model [unit]) are used to train Faster R-CNN. The middle-right image shows improvement in pedestrian detection when domain adaptation [chen2018domain] is used to train Faster R-CNN. The bottom-right image shows improvement in pedestrian detection when generated images by I2IT (the UNIT model [unit]) are used to train YOLO.

For other cases, for example traffic-light detection performance under Faster R-CNN, domain adaptation and image translation do not seem to perform well when tested on natural rainy images (even when using natural rainy images as the target domain for training these techniques). Potential factors for this lacking performance in some of these cases is the fact that small objects such as traffic-lights are quite challenging to detect to start with. This can be seen from the very low numbers of average precision, even under clear conditions, which is a mere 26%. Naturally, the impact of raindrops or rain streaks on such small objects in the scene could be quite severe to the extent that a mitigating technique might not be able to recover the salient features of these object.

In summary, employing domain adaptation or generating rainy-weather visuals using unsupervised image-to-image translation, and then using these visuals for training seem to narrow the gap in performance due to the domain mismatch between clear and rainy weather conditions. This promising observation becomes especially clear when considering the disappointing performance of deraining algorithms. Nevertheless, it is also clear that there is still a much needed room for improvements toward reaching the performance under clear conditions. There are key challenges need to be addressed though when designing any new mitigating techniques for closing the aforementioned gap. These challenges include the broad and diverse scenarios for “rainy conditions”, especially in driving environments. These diverse cases and scenarios can’t be learned in a viable way by using state-of-the-art approaches. For example, raindrops have a wide range of possible appearance, and they come with various sizes and shapes, especially when falling on the windshield of a vehicle. Another factor is the influence of windshield wipers on altering the amount, and even shapes and sizes of raindrops, in-between wipe cycles. Other external factors include reflections from the surrounding wet pavement, mist in the air, and splash effects. Hence, current state-of-the-art image translation techniques and domain adaptation are not robust enough to capture these wide variety of rain effects. Figure 10 shows images from the test rainy set, where these examples illustrate several scenarios and effects of rainy weather for driving vehicles.

Fig. 10: Images from test-rainy set that illustrate several scenarios and effects of rainy weather for driving vehicles.

V Conclusion

Besides outlining state-of-the-art frameworks for object detection, deraining, image-to-image translation and domain adaptation, this tutorial highlights crucial results and conclusions regarding current methods in terms of their performance under rainy weather conditions. In particular, we believe that there is an overarching consistent message regarding the limitations of the surveyed techniques in handling and mitigating the impact of rain for visuals captured by moving vehicles. This consistent observation has serious implications for autonomous vehicles since the aforementioned limitations impact autonomous vehicles’ core safety capabilities. To address these issues, we recap some of our key findings and point out potential directions:

  1. [leftmargin=*]

  2. The lack of data, and especially annotated data, that captures the truly diverse nature of rainy conditions for moving vehicles is arguably the most critical and fundamental issue in this area. Major industry players are recently becoming more willing to tackle this problem and are more open about addressing this issue publicly. Consequently, few related efforts have just been announced and actually commenced by high tech companies. These efforts are specifically dedicated for operating fleets of autonomous vehicles in challenging and diverse rainy weather conditions, explicitly for the sake of collecting data under these conditions[Waymo-Florida]. After years of testing and millions of driven miles conducted primarily in favorable and clear weather, there is a salient admittance and willingness to divert important resources toward data collection under challenging weather conditions that will be encountered by autonomous vehicles.

  3. Despite the recent efforts for collecting more diverse data, we believe that generative models could still play a crucial role in training object detection methods to be more robust and resilient under challenging conditions. In particular, we believe that novel and more advanced frameworks for unsupervised image-to-image translation could play a viable role for generating meaningful data for training. Due to the fact that these frameworks do not require annotated data, their underlying generative models could be useful in many ways. First, they could fill the gap that currently exists in terms of the lack of real annotated data under different weather conditions; and hence, progress in terms of training and testing of new object detection methods could be achieved by using these generative models. Second, even after a reasonable size of annotated data captured under natural rainy conditions become increasingly available, the generative models could still play a pivotal role in both basic training and in coverage of diverse scenarios. In other words, unsupervised image-to-image translation models could always generate more data that can compliment real data; and this on its own could be quite helpful to further the basic training of object detection methods. Furthermore, despite how many scenarios of rainy conditions real data do actually represent, there will always be a need for capturing certain scenarios not included in a real data set. In that context, generative models could be used to generate data representing these missing scenarios from the real data sets, and hence, they could increase coverage and diversity of cases that object detection methods can handle.

  4. There is a need for novel deep learning architectures and solutions that have adequate capacity for handling object detection under diverse conditions. Designing a neural network that could perform quite well in one domain yet degrades under other domains is not a viable strategy for autonomous vehicles. In general, training leading object detection architectures using diverse set of data does not necessarily improve the performance of these architectures relative to their performances when trained on a narrow domain of cases and scenarios. We believe that this issue represents an opportunity for researchers in the field to make key contributions.


This work has been supported by the Ford Motor Company under the Ford-MSU Alliance Program. The authors would like to acknowledge Ford’s Advanced Research Engineers, Jonathan Diedrich and Mark Gehrke, for their invaluable input and contributions throughout the collaborative effort that resulted in this article.