- [pdf] [supp] [arXiv]
Text Is Text, No Matter What: Unifying Text Recognition Using Knowledge Distillation
Text recognition remains a fundamental and extensively researched topic in computer vision, largely owing to its wide array of commercial applications. The challenging nature of the very problem however dictated a fragmentation of research efforts: Scene Text Recognition (STR) that deals with text in everyday scenes, and Handwriting Text Recognition (HTR) that tackles hand-written text. In this paper, for the first time, we argue for their unification -- we aim for a single model that can compete favourably with two separate state-of-the-art STR and HTR models. We first show that cross-utilisation of STR and HTR models trigger significant performance drops due to differences in their inherent challenges. We then tackle their union by introducing a knowledge distillation (KD) based framework. This however is non-trivial, largely due to the variable-length and sequential nature of text sequences, which renders off-the-shelf KD techniques that mostly work with global fixed length data, inadequate. For that, we propose four distillation losses, all of which are specifically designed to cope with the aforementioned unique characteristics of text recognition. Empirical evidence suggests that our proposed unified model performs at par with individual models, even surpassing them in certain cases. Ablative studies demonstrate that naive baselines such as a two-stage framework, multi-task and domain adaption/generalisation alternatives do not work that well, further authenticating our design.