1 Introduction
Many classical computer vision tasks have enjoyed a great breakthrough, primarily due to the large amount of training data and the application of deep convolution neural networks (CNN) [8]. In the most recent ILSVRC 2014 competition [11], CNNbased solutions have achieved nearhuman accuracies in image classification, localization and detection tasks [14, 16].
Accompanying this progress are studies trying to understand what CNN has learnt internally and what contribute to its success [2, 13, 17]. By design, layers within the network have progressively larger receptive field sizes, allowing them to learn more complex features. Another key point is the shiftinvariance property, that a pattern in the input can be recognized regardless of its position [9]. Pooling layers contribute resilience to slight deformation as well small scale change [12].
However, it is evident that CNN deals with shiftvariance far better than scaleinvariance
[3]. Not dealing with scaleinvariance well poses a direct conflict to the design philosophy of CNN, in that higher layers may see and thus captures features of certain plain patterns simply because they are larger at the input, not because they are more complex. In other words, there is no alignments between in the position of a filter and the complexity it captures. What is more, there are other invariance that CNN does not deal with internally. Examples include rotations and flips (since features of natural objects are mostly symmetric).A brutal force solution would be to make the network larger by introducing more filters to cope with scale variations of the same feature, accompanied by scalejittering the input images, often by order of magnitude. This is, in fact, the popular practice today [1, 8, 14]. It is true even for proposals that directly deal with this problem. For example, [3] drives the CNN with crops of different size and positions with three differnt scales, and then uses VLAD pooling to produce a feature summary of the patches.
We explore a radically different approach that is also simple. Observing that filters that detect the same pattern but with different scales bear strong relationship, we adopt a multicolumn design and designate each column to specialize on certain scales. We call our system SiCNN (Scaleinvariant CNN). Unlike a conventional multicolumn CNN, filters in SiCNN are strongly regulated among columns. The goal is to make the network resilient to scale variance without blowing up number of free parameters, and thus reduce the need of jittering the input.
We performed detailed analysis and verified that SiCNN exhibits the desired behavior. For example, the column that deals with larger scale is indeed activated by input patterns with the larger scaling factor, and the system as a whole becomes less sensitive to scale variance. On unaugmented CIFAR10 dataset [7]
, our method produces the best result among all previous works using a single CNN and a simple softmax classifier, and is complementary to other techniques that improve the performance. Our model increases training cost linear to number of columns, but we find that incremental refinement can dramatically reduce the cost without compromising the performance significantly.
2 Model
Consider the case of classifying objects that have only one canonical
scale and the only free parameter is their positions. A stack of convolution filters can progressively build more complex hidden representations. These hidden representations are all
invariant by shift, meaning that the activations preserve the same pattern except that they are shifted. In other words, , for arbitrary image and filter , and this relationship is upheld layer to layer. This makes the job of the classifier easy.In the existing CNN architecture, dealing with multiple scales is jointly achieved by the pooling layers and the convolution layers. The convolution layer not only needs to learn different features but also their scaled variants into multiple feature maps. Units in the pairing pooling layer generate scaleinvariance within their receptive fields, which help to save feature maps. This multiscale solution leads to bigger model and, since filters are independently learned, the need of more training data. The popular practice is scalejittering [8].
Our idea is simple, and is inspired by the invariancebyshift property of the existing convolution layer. Just like CNN convolve a filter on different positions, we also ”convolve” the filter on different scales. This is done by adding independent columns, each is a conventional CNN but “specialized” at detecting one scale. Crucially, the columns are strongly regularized such that the number of free parameters in the convolution layers stay the same. Thus, we inject scaleinvariance into the model, requiring neither additional data augmentation nor increasing the model size.
In the followings, we first introduce our architecture, present the intuition and then give the concrete mathematical definition.
2.1 ScaleInvariance Architecture
SiCNN uses multiple columns of convolutional stack with varying filter size to capture objects with unknown scales in input images. The architecture is illustrated in Figure 1
. From bottom up, the input image is fed into all the columns. Each column has several convolutional layers with maxpooling. The key difference from conventional multicolumn CNN is that, although these columns use different filter size, they still share a set of common parameters among their filters. A canonical column (Column 1 in Figure
1) keeps canonical filters in each layer. Other columns, which we call scale columns, transform these canonical filters into their own filter. Collectively, a canonical filter and its transformed filters detect its pattern at different scales in multiple columns simultaneously. Therefore, a single pattern with different scales trigger one or more columns.In our architecture, we simply concatenate the toplayer feature maps from all the columns into a feature vector. The final classification layers (a softmax layer in the simplest case) take this feature vector as input.
2.2 Filters in Multiple Scales
Filters that are transformed into different columns from the canonical filter capture the same pattern at different scales. We will discuss this transformation from canonical filters to other columns.
Consider a canonical filter , which detects a pattern in image by convolution (Figure 2). When the image is scaled by a scaling operation to , we expect another column with transformed filter to capture the same pattern instead. Thus, the column generates another convolution result . Just as invariancebyshift, we require this convolution be equivalent with scaling from the convolution result in the canonical column. That is
(1) 
We call this property of filter as invariancebyscaling. Given a scaling , we want to find the that satisfies Equation 1 for any image and filter .
The above discussion is for the first layer. However, it is easy to see that if the filter transformation in each layer satisfies Equation 1, then invariancebyscaling property is preserved layer by layer till reaching the classification layer. In Figure 3, when input images and with different scale are fed into the canonical column and the column separately, they generate and
respectively. The following ReLU nonlinear activation function and maxpooling keep this scale relationship and result in
and . By recursively applying Equation 1, we know the top layers of these two columns also keep the same scale relationship: if canonical column generates on input image , the column generates on image .If the object scale fits exactly one of the columns, then there is a perfect matching with the column outputting the highest responses. Otherwise, if the object scale just falls in between the scales of two neighboring columns, both the two columns will have relatively high responses. The concatenated feature vector at the end makes it possible for the classifier to do a linear combinations of responses from multiple columns to eliminate above variance.
2.3 Filter Transformation
By a vector representation of the image (concatenating all the rows or columns in matrix), scaling and convolution are all linear transformations. Given a canonical filter
represented by a vector, we can solve the following equation derived from Equation 1 to get the transformed filter ,(2) 
Equation 2 is a system of linear equations for . However, such a system doesn’t always have a valid solution because it has too many constraints (linear equations). To address this problem, we reduce to be of the same size as , which makes the produce only a single number. Then, Equation 2 turns into
(3) 
where is the scaling matrix, is the vector representation of the image, and similar are and . It’s easy to prove that Equation 3 is equivalent to
(4) 
We can solve Equation 4 to obtain . However, in practice we can’t always obtain an exact or unique because
is not a square and invertible matrix. When
is a scalingup matrix (#rows #columns), the equation have infinite number of solutions; when is a scalingdown matrix (#rows #columns), the equation have no exact solutions.For the first case with infinite solutions, we choose the solution with the minimum L2 norm,
(5) 
The reason that we choose a minimumnorm solution is similar of applying weight decay to the weights, i.e., to reduce overfitting. A flat filter is likely to have more generalization to various cases. It is easy to get the solution of (5) by the generalized inverse of ,
(6) 
For the second case with no exact solution, we see the problem from a different angle: we take the scaled image as an input image, and proximate the original with a scaling of , . Here the is a scalingup matrix in the reverted direction of . We turn the Equation 3 into
(7) 
Similar to Equation 4, we get
(8) 
In our implementation, we use bicubic interpolation
[6] as the scaling method to transform filters. This method can produce nice scaling results without losing too much information of the original image.In our model, we also consider a special scaling operation: horizontal flipping. We add some columns with flipped filters to capture the flipped patterns in input. The scaling matrix for flipping is a symmetric invertible matrix. It is very easy to solve Equation 4,
(9) 
2.4 Training Multiple Columns
We integrate all the columns with tied filters into a single model and train them together with backpropagation algorithm. Observing Equation 6, 8 and 9 in above cases, we find the transformation from canonical filter to any scale is always a linear transformation. That means, the filters in all the columns are tied to the canonical filter by a matrix multiplication,
where is some transformation matrix. Particularly,
is an identity matrix for canonical column. This property makes backpropagation very convenient.
Suppose we have columns, and the corresponding filters are
Define the cost function as , which is a function of all the
. By the chain rule of derivatives, we get
In training, we first do the backpropagation in each column independently. Then, derivatives of the filters distributed on all columns are transformed and gathered as the canonical filters’ derivatives. When the canonical filters are updated by these aggregated derivatives, all the filters on the scaled columns are recomputed by filter transformation from the new canonical filters.
3 Experiment Results
This section presents our experimental results. We begin with a detailed analysis on the scale invariance achieved within the network, followed by endtoend performance on CIFAR10 dataset [7]. The baseline CNN is close to the Alex network [5], with 3 layers of convolution. Each layer uses
receptive size and a stride of 1, pooling of receptive size
and a stride of 2, followed by local normalization. The first convolution is paired with max pooling whereas the latter two is followed by average pooling. SiCNN extends it to 6 columns. The first three columns use filter size of 3, 5 and 7, with the last three columns being the flipped versions of the first three. All the weights are regularized and tied to the column with the nonflipped column. We train these models on standard CIFAR10 with the training method similar to that in [5]. We use the same hyperparameters (learning rate, momentum, weight decay) as in [5]. We first train the whole net for 240 epochs, then reduce the learning rate by a factor of ten. We train for another 20 epochs, tune the learning rate again, and train for another 20 epochs to get the final result.
To exploit the invariance property of the model, we need to generate a new test dataset with a mixture of different scales. We crop the central and of the CIFAR10 images and resize them to . This mixed dataset has 3 different scales: small, middle and large. We refer to this dataset as scaled CIFAR10 later in this section.
Our experiment results are best viewed in electronic form.
3.1 Filter Transformation for ScaleInvariance
Consider an arbitrary image and its scaled version . After applying a filter and its transformation , their corresponding activations become and , respectively. As described in Section 2.3
, to achieve scaleinvariant pattern matching, we expect the former after scaling is indistinguishable with the latter, i.e.,
(10) 
In section Section 2.3, we achieve this for small image patches; in this section, we verify this property for larger images.
Note that the left side of Equation 10, is the scaled activation of the canonical image, and is the design target of our transformation function. So we quantify with relative error using
where and .
We compare three different kinds of filter transformation methods. is an identity transformation, with which we apply the original filter onto the scaled image . is the filter transformation described in Section 2.3. is a comparison method, where we directly use simple image sampling to scale the filter. We also normalize the transformed filter to the same L1 norm as the original filter; we find this normalization performs the best compared to other alternatives. takes such a transformation on filter ,


We report the filter invariancebyscaling by measuring
in Table 1. We take 100 random images from the test set of CIFAR10 and take their averaged result. Three canonical filters with size of are considered: random filter (the first row), filters learnt in the baseline CNN model (the second row), and filters learnt in SiCNN (the third row). As comparison, nonoverlapped max pooling, which is usually considered powerful for scaleinvariance, is taken as a nonparametric filter applied to image and scaled . In Table 1(a), we use a scalingup that doubles the image size from to . Accordingly, and scale the filter size from to . In Table 1(b), is a scalingdown. Image size is halved from to , and the filter size is scaled down from to .
From Table 1, it is clear that convolution with the same filter without any transformation is very sensitive to the image scale (column ). Our filter transformation method (column ) and the samplingbased method (column ) are much more robust to the image scale. is almost always better than the simpleminded , especially when the image is scaled down and we need a more precise filter with a very small size. Considering the fact that is hard for backpropagation because of the normalization, our method becomes an apparent choice for transforming filters. Also, when the image is scaled up, our filter transformation is even better than pooling. Considering pooling doesn’t need to detect any patterns, it’s interesting to see that our method achieves robust invariancebyscaling. When the image is scaled down, our method is still comparable against pooling. From random filter to SiCNN trained one, these filters adapt to some specific scale more and more. Consequently, the invariancebyscaling of these filters also gets worse (from first row to the last row) as expected.
To give a more concrete feeling of our approach, we inspect the feature maps generated by images of different scales. Fig. 4 shows two particular examples, visualizing a feature map in each of the three convolution layers and the final result after pooling and normalization. In each example, the left column is the activations from the original image of , and the other two columns are from scaled image of . The left and middle column are results of using filter of the size and its transformed filter. All the feature maps have been scaled to the same size for ease of comparison. From the relatively small difference in each layer, it is clear that applying the transformed filters on the scaled image preserves the essential characteristics of the original. The rightmost column is the result of applying the original filter to the scaled image. It is clear that the fixed filter generates the activations that diverge from that of the original image (the leftmost column) significantly.
3.2 MultiColumn Features
To give an idea of what features the different columns learn, we scan over the activations on the last pooling layer caused by 30,000 test images from the scaled CIFAR10. We randomly pick up a filter in the last layer and visualize the top 16 images that cause the largest outputs of this filter, in each of the 6 columns individually (Fig. 5). This method is similar to that used in [17]. It can be seen that each column in our model focuses on a particular scale and orientation: the images which causes largest activations get larger from left to right, and the automobiles in the two rows face opposite directions.
In addition to the visual inspection, we try to quantify how sensitive filters of different columns are to the scales. We take the top 100 images that this feature of a given column gets activated the most, then break them down according to which scale they belong to in the data set: small, middle or large. This statics is reported at the bottom of the images in Fig. 5. It is clear that columns with small filters “picks” the smallscale images more, whereas the columns with larger filters does the opposite.
column 1  column 2  column 3  
NonFlipped  
column 4  column 5  column 6  
NonFlipped  
Image Scales 
When an object for recognition is scaled from small to large, the columns in SiCNN will also work in turn to capture this object. We illustrate that in Figure 7. Using method similar as in Fig. 5, we first select a feature map that detects dogs in the last layer. Then we pick a dog image from CIFAR10 and scale the object into different sizes (2x larger at most). The max activation value in the feature map are plotted as a function of the object size for each scale column. In Figure 7, it is clear that when the object is small, the column with filter first captures it and gives a big response. When the object gets larger, activations on this filter column drop. The and columns gradually reach their peak responses in turn. The peaks of the three columns locate with the same interval along the object size, because of the equalinterval filter sizes of 3, 5 and 7. Comparing activation values among different columns is meaningless, because they are eventually summed up with different weights for classification. However, this study clearly shows that by tracing which column is activated more, we can detect a object as well as its scale.
3.3 ScaleInvariant Classification
Model 





CNN  17.33%  24.82%  43.22%  
SiCNN  14.22%  18.83%  32.42%  
Improvement  17.94%  24.13% 
Table 2 compare the results of the baseline CNN and SiCNN, both of which are trained on standard CIFAR10 dataset. SiCNN achieves statistically significant gain on standard CIFAR10. Its full advantage is more apparent with the scaled CIFAR10, where CNN has a performance drop of more than , and SiCNN drops by . We manually examine the error cases, and find that the simple centralcropresize has cut off many significant features in the scaled CIFAR10. We speculate SiCNN will work better on higher quality multiscale datasets.
To verify the above hypothesis, we pick 5 random images in which the object is at the center, and scale them to different sizes; the largest one is the central area of the image resized to
. We put these images into both CNN and SiCNN, and compare the probability of the correct class. The results are shown in Fig.
7. It can be seen that as the scale of the image goes up, the performance of CNN drops whereas SiCNN is stable. The only exception among these samples is the one of horse; its scaled up versions start to lose vital features.3.4 Training results on CIFAR10
Method  Testing error 

CNN [5]  16.6% 
CNN+ dropout [5]  15.6% 
CNN+Spearmint [15]  14.98% 
SiCNN  14.22% 
CNN+Maxout [4]  11.68% 
CNN+Maxout [4] + SiCNN (voting)  11.35% 
MaxoutSiCNN (2column)  11.33% 
Network in Network [10]  10.41% 
In Table 3, we compare the classification error rate of SiCNN with other previous approaches on CIFAR10 [7]. We achieve an error rate of 14.22% on unaugmented data, an improvement of more than 2% absolute gain over the baseline CNN in [5]. SiCNN also exceeds other improvement on CNN, such as dropout [5] and Spearmint [15], but is insufficient to catch up with the maxout [4] and networkinnetwork [10], which are the current state of the art. Nevertheless, our method can be combined with these techniques as SiCNN is addressing scaleinvariance problem, which is a different goal from others. For example, by using an average voting with SiCNN, we drop the error rate of maxout model from 11.68% to 11.35%. Moreover, by simply adding a extra flipped column to maxout model, we reach an error rate of 11.33% with a single 2column maxoutSiCNN model. We find these results encouraging, and expect that SiCNN will work better on benchmarks that exhibit higher scale variations, as the results in Section 3.3
suggest. Replicating SICNN on larger and more complex dataset such as ImageNet is ongoing work.
SiCNN takes the form of multicolumn CNN without blowing up number of free parameters. As a more direct comparison, we train a 6column CNN where the filters are independent. Under the same training condition this network suffers severe overfit, the testing error hovers around 19% while training error already reaches zero.
3.5 Incremental Training
Model 


cost  

CNN  17.33%  24.82%  1  
SiCNN  14.22%  18.83%  6  
SiCNN, inc1  14.71%  20.10%  3.5  
SiCNN, inc2  16.06%  23.24%  1 + 
Improving scale invariance does not come for free. In the current configuration, training costs increase linearly with number of columns. Clearly, we can first train one single column, transform its filters to other columns and finally refine the model. In this ideal setting, it is reasonable to expect that the additional training cost is insignificant.
We explored two incremental training methods. In the first choice (named inc1), we first train a baseline CNN with about half the epochs of a full training, and we build a 6column SiCNN based on the current filters. Then we begin to refine the entire model with the left half of the epochs. In the second choice (named inc2), we continue from a fully trained baseline CNN, and use its filters to build the 6column SiCNN. Then, with all the filter parameters frozen, we only refine the parameters in classifier. As we use a single softmax layer as classifier, the inc2 method has a very small extra cost.
Results for incremental learning are summarized in Table 4. Compared with SiCNN trained from scratch (the second row), inc1 training (the third row) takes nearly half cost, with the model achieving a comparable performance. With the inc2 training (the fourth row), although the extra training cost is very small (1.5%), we still get a model with better performance than baseline CNN. Also by combination with the maxout units [4], we’re able to reach an error rate of 11.33% which is higher than the previous result. Incremental learning does help to balance the performance gain and training efficiency in SiCNN.
4 Conclusion
In this paper, we propose a new generalization of CNN, SiCNN, where we incorporate scale and flip invariance into the model. This model improves the results of traditional CNN, and complements other optimization techniques. Our results clearly indicate that the model learns the feature in different scales in different columns. The idea is generalizable, can be applied in all aspects where CNN is employed, including supervised and unsupervised learning, recognition, detection, and localization tasks. Our preliminary study also implies a nice tradeoff between performance and training cost.
Several open problems remain. For example, we can use a different way of summarizing all the columns (instead of concatenation), and different connectivity structure among column (e.g., pairwise between columns instead of alltoone against the canonical column). We plan to apply SiCNN to larger and more complex datasets such as Imagenet.
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