Easier object detection on mobile with TensorFlow Lite

Posted by Khanh LeViet, Developer Advocate on behalf of the TensorFlow Lite team

Example of object detection on mobile

At Google I/O this year, we are excited to announce several product updates that simplify training and deployment of object detection models on mobile devices:

  • On-device ML learning pathway: a step-by-step tutorial on how to train and deploy a custom object detection model on mobile devices with no machine learning expertise required.
  • EfficientDet-Lite: a state-of-the-art object detection model architecture optimized for mobile devices.
  • TensorFlow Lite Model Maker for object detection: train custom models in just a few lines of code.
  • TensorFlow Lite Metadata Writer API: simplify metadata creation to generate custom object detection models compatible with TFLite Task Library.

Despite being a very common ML use case, object detection can be one of the most difficult to do. We’ve worked hard to make it easier for you, and in this blog post we’ll show you how to leverage the latest offerings from TensorFlow Lite to build a state-of-the-art mobile object detector using your own domain data.

On-device ML learning pathway: learn how to train and deploy custom TensorFlow Lite object detection model in 12 minutes.

Training a custom object detection model and deploying it to an Android app has become super easy with TensorFlow Lite. We released a learning pathway that teaches you step-by-step how to do it.

In the video, you can learn the steps to build a custom object detector:

  1. Prepare the training data.
  2. Train a custom object detection model using TensorFlow Lite Model Maker.
  3. Deploy the model on your mobile app using TensorFlow Lite Task Library.

There’s also a codelab with source code on GitHub for you to run through the code yourself. Please try it out and let us know your feedback!

EfficientDet-Lite: the state-of-the-art model architecture for object detection on mobile devices

Running machine learning models on mobile devices means we always need to consider the trade-off between model accuracy vs. inference speed and model size. The state-of-the-art mobile-optimized model doesn’t only need to be more accurate, but it also needs to run faster and be smaller. We adapted the neural architecture search technique published in the EfficientDet paper, then optimized the model architecture for running on mobile devices and came up with a novel mobile object detection model family called EfficientDet-Lite.

EfficientDet-Lite has 5 different versions: Lite0 to Lite4. The smaller version runs faster but is not as accurate as the larger version. You can experiment with multiple versions of EfficientNet-Lite and choose the one that is most suitable for your use case.

Model architecture


Latency (ms)**

Average Precision***





















SSD MobileNetV2 320×320




SSD MobileNetV2 FPNLite 640×640




* Size of the integer quantized models.

** Latency measured on Pixel 4 using 4 threads on CPU.

*** Average Precision is the mAP (mean Average Precision) on the COCO 2017 validation dataset.

We have released the EfficientDet-Lite models trained on the COCO dataset to TensorFlow Hub. You also can train EfficientDet-Lite custom models using your own training data with TensorFlow Lite Model Maker.

TensorFlow Lite Model Maker: train a custom object detection using transfer learning in a few lines of code

TensorFlow Lite Model Maker is a Python library that significantly simplifies the process of training a machine learning model using a custom dataset. It leverages transfer learning to enable training high quality models using just a handful of images.

Model Maker accepts datasets in the PASCAL VOC format and the Cloud AutoML’s CSV format. As you can create your own dataset using open-source GUI tools such as LabelImg or makesense.ai, everyone can create training data for Model Maker without writing a single line of code.

Once you have your training data, you can start training a TensorFlow Lite custom object detectors.

# Step 1: Choose the model architecture
spec = model_spec.get('efficientdet_lite2')

# Step 2: Load your training data
train_data, validation_data, test_data = object_detector.DataLoader.from_csv('gs://cloud-ml-data/img/openimage/csv/salads_ml_use.csv')

# Step 3: Train a custom object detector
model = object_detector.create(train_data, model_spec=spec, validation_data=validation_data)

# Step 4: Export the model in the TensorFlow Lite format

# Step 5: Evaluate the TensorFlow Lite model
model.evaluate_tflite('model.tflite', test_data)

Check out this notebook to learn more.

TensorFlow Lite Task Library: deploying object detection models on mobile in a few lines of code

TensorFlow Lite Task Library is a cross-platform library which simplifies TensorFlow Lite model deployments on mobile. Custom object detection models trained with TensorFlow Lite Model Maker can be deployed to an Android app in just a few lines of Kotlin code:

// Step 1: Load the TensorFlow Lite model
val detector = ObjectDetector.createFromFile(context, "model.tflite")

// Step 2: Convert the input Bitmap into a TensorFlow Lite's TensorImage object
val image = TensorImage.fromBitmap(bitmap)

// Step 3: Feed given image to the model and get the detection result
val results = detector.detect(image)

See our documentation to learn more about the customization options in Task Library, including how to configure the minimum detection threshold or the maximum number of detected objects.

TensorFlow Lite Metadata Writer API: simplify deployment of custom models trained with TensorFlow Object Detection API

Task Library relies on the model metadata bundled in the TensorFlow Lite model to execute the preprocessing and postprocessing logic required to run inference using the model. They include how to normalize the input image, or how to map the class id to human readable labels. Models trained using Model Maker have these metadata by default, making them compatible with Task Library. But if you train a TensorFlow Lite object detection model using a training pipeline other than Model Maker, you can add the metadata using TensorFlow Lite Metadata Writer API.

For example, if you train a model using TensorFlow Object Detection API, you can add metadata to the TensorFlow Lite model using this Python code:

LABEL_PATH = 'label_map.txt'
MODEL_PATH = "ssd_mobilenet_v2_fpnlite_640x640_coco17_tpu-8/model.tflite"
SAVE_TO_PATH = "ssd_mobilenet_v2_fpnlite_640x640_coco17_tpu-8/model_with_metadata.tflite"

# Step 1: Specify the preprocessing parameters and label file
writer = object_detector.MetadataWriter.create_for_inference(
writer_utils.load_file(MODEL_PATH), input_norm_mean=[0],
input_norm_std=[255], label_file_paths=[LABEL_PATH])

# Step 2: Export the model with metadata
writer_utils.save_file(writer.populate(), SAVE_TO_PATH)

Here we specify the normalization parameters (input_norm_mean=[0], input_norm_std=[255]) so that the input image will be normalized into the [0..1] range. You need to specify normalization parameters to be the same as in the preprocessing logic used during the model training.

See this notebook for a full tutorial on how to convert models trained with the TensorFlow Object Detection API to TensorFlow Lite and add metadata.

What’s next

Our goal is to make machine learning easier to use for every developer, with or without machine learning expertise. We are working with the Model Garden team to bring more object detection model architectures to Model Maker. We will also continue to work with researchers in Google to make future state-of-the-art object detection models available via Model Maker, shortening the path from cutting-edge research to production for everyone. Stay tuned for more updates!

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