Creating an Object Detection Application Using TensorFlow

This tutorial describes how to install and run an object detection application. The application uses TensorFlow and other public API libraries to detect multiple objects in an uploaded image.


This is a basic tutorial designed to familiarize you with TensorFlow applications. When you are finished, you should be able to:

  • Create a virtual machine (VM) using Google Compute Engine.
  • Install the Object Detection API library.
  • Install and launch an object detection web application.
  • Test the web application with uploaded images.


This tutorial uses billable components of Cloud Platform, including:

  • Compute Engine
  • Persistent Disk

The estimated price to run this tutorial, assuming you use every resource for an entire day, is approximately $1.36 based on this pricing calculator.

Before you begin

  1. Sign in to your Google account.

    If you don't already have one, sign up for a new account.

  2. Select or create a Cloud Platform project.

    Go to the Projects page

  3. Enable billing for your project.

    Enable billing

TensorFlow architecture overview

The object detection application uses the following components:

  • TensorFlow. An open source machine learning library developed by researchers and engineers within Google's Machine Intelligence research organization. TensorFlow runs on multiple computers to distribute the training workloads.

  • Object Detection API. An open source framework built on top of TensorFlow that makes it easy to construct, train, and deploy object detection models.

  • Pre-trained object detection models. The Object Detection API provides pre-trained object detection models for users running inference jobs. Users are not required to train models from scratch.

Local implementation

The following diagram shows how this tutorial is implemented. The web application is deployed to a VM instance running on Compute Engine.


When the client uploads an image to the application, the application runs the inference job locally. The pre-trained model returns the labels of detected objects, and the image coordinates of the corresponding objects. Using these values, the application generates new images populated with rectangles around the detected objects. Separate images are generated for each object category, allowing the client to discriminate between selected objects.

Remote implementation

You can deploy the pre-trained model on Google Cloud Machine Learning Engine to provide an API service for inference. If you do, the web application sends an API request to detect objects in the uploaded image, instead of running the inference job locally.

TensorFlow allows you to choose which platform to execute inference jobs on depending on your business needs. This flexibility shows the advantage of Google Cloud Platform and TensorFlow as an open platform for machine learning.

Pre-trained models

You can use five pre-trained models with the Object Detection API. They are trained with the COCO dataset and are capable of detecting general objects in 80 categories.

The COCO mAP column shows the model's accuracy index. Higher numbers indicate better accuracy. As speed increases, accuracy decreases.

Model name Speed COCO mAP
ssd_mobilenet_v1_coco fast 21
ssd_inception_v2_coco fast 24
rfcn_resnet101_coco medium 30
faster_rcnn_resnet101_coco medium 32
faster_rcnn_inception_resnet_v2_atrous_coco slow 37

Launch a VM instance

  1. In the Cloud Platform Console, go to the VM Instances page.

    Go to the VM Instances page

  2. Click the Create instance button.
  3. Set Machine type to 8 vCPUs.
  4. Click the Customize link next in the Machine type section.
  5. In the Memory section, replace 30 with 8.
  6. In the Firewall section, select Allow HTTP traffic.
  7. Click the Management, disks, networking, SSH keys link, then click the Networking tab.
  8. Click the pencil icon next to the default row in the Network interfaces section.
  9. Select Create IP address from the External IP dropdown to assign a static IP address. Input staticip in the Name field, then click Reserve.
  10. Click the Create button to create the instance.

SSH into the instance

  1. Click SSH to the right of the instance name to open an SSH terminal.

  2. Enter the following command to switch to the root user:

    sudo -i

Install the Object Detection API library

  1. Install the prerequisite packages.

    apt-get update
    apt-get install -y protobuf-compiler python-pil python-lxml python-pip python-dev git
    pip install Flask==0.12.2 WTForms==2.1 Flask_WTF==0.14.2 Werkzeug==0.12.2
    pip install --upgrade

  2. Install the Object Detection API library.

    cd /opt
    git clone
    cd models
    protoc object_detection/protos/*.proto --python_out=.

  3. Download the pre-trained model binaries by running the following commands.

    mkdir -p /opt/graph_def
    cd /tmp
    for model in \
      ssd_mobilenet_v1_coco_11_06_2017 \
      ssd_inception_v2_coco_11_06_2017 \
      rfcn_resnet101_coco_11_06_2017 \
      faster_rcnn_resnet101_coco_11_06_2017 \
    do \
      curl -OL$model.tar.gz
      tar -xzf $model.tar.gz $model/frozen_inference_graph.pb
      cp -a $model /opt/graph_def/

  4. Choose a model for the web application to use. For example, to select faster_rcnn_resnet101_coco_11_06_2017, enter the following command:

    ln -sf /opt/graph_def/faster_rcnn_resnet101_coco_11_06_2017/frozen_inference_graph.pb /opt/graph_def/frozen_inference_graph.pb

Install and launch the web application

  1. Install the application.

    cd $HOME
    git clone
    cp -a tensorflow-object-detection-example/object_detection_app /opt/
    cp /opt/object_detection_app/object-detection.service /etc/systemd/system/
    systemctl daemon-reload

  2. The application provides a simple user authentication mechanism. You can change the username and password by modifying the /opt/object_detection_app/ file.

    USERNAME = 'username'
    PASSWORD = 'passw0rd'

  3. Launch the application.

    systemctl enable object-detection
    systemctl start object-detection
    systemctl status object-detection

    The last command outputs the application status, as in the following example:

    ● object-detection.service - Object Detection API Demo
       Loaded: loaded (/opt/object_detection_app/object-detection.service; linked)
       Active: active (running) since Wed 2017-06-21 05:34:10 UTC; 22s ago
      Process: 7122 ExecStop=/bin/kill -TERM $MAINPID (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
     Main PID: 7125 (
       CGroup: /system.slice/object-detection.service
               └─7125 /usr/bin/python /opt/object_detection_app/

    Jun 21 05:34:10 object-detection systemd[1]: Started Object Detection API Demo. Jun 21 05:34:26 object-detection[7125]: 2017-06-2105:34:26.518736: W tensorflow/core/platform/cpu_fe...ons. Jun 21 05:34:26 object-detection[7125]: 2017-06-2105:34:26.518790: W tensorflow/core/platform/cpu_fe...ons. Jun 21 05:34:26 object-detection[7125]: 2017-06-2105:34:26.518795: W tensorflow/core/platform/cpu_fe...ons. Jun 21 05:34:26 object-detection[7125]: * Running on (Press CTRL+C to quit) Hint: Some lines were ellipsized, use -l to show in full.

    The application loads the model binary immediately after launch. It will take a minute to start serving requests from clients. You'll see the message Running on (Press CTRL+C to quit) when it's ready.

Test the web application

Using a web browser, access the static IP address that was assigned when you launched the VM instance. When you upload an image file with a JPEG, JPG, or PNG extension, the application shows the result of the object detection inference, as shown in the following image. The inference might take up to 30 seconds, depending on the image.


The object names detected by the model are shown to the right of the image, in the application window. Click an object name to display rectangles surrounding the corresponding objects in the image. The rectangle thickness increases with object identification confidence.

In the above image, "fork", "cup", "dining table", "person", and "knife", are detected. After clicking cup, rectangles display around all detected cups in the image. Click original to see the original image. Test this model's accuracy by uploading images that contain different types of objects.

Change the inference model

The following commands show how to change the inference model.

systemctl stop object-detection
ln -sf /opt/graph_def/[MODEL NAME]/frozen_inference_graph.pb /opt/graph_def/frozen_inference_graph.pb
systemctl start object-detection

Replace [MODEL NAME] with one of the following options.

  • ssd_mobilenet_v1_coco_11_06_2017
  • ssd_inception_v2_coco_11_06_2017
  • rfcn_resnet101_coco_11_06_2017
  • faster_rcnn_resnet101_coco_11_06_2017
  • faster_rcnn_inception_resnet_v2_atrous_coco_11_06_2017

Cleaning up

To avoid incurring charges to your Google Cloud Platform account for the resources used in this tutorial:

  1. In the Cloud Platform Console, go to the Projects page.

    Go to the Projects page

  2. In the project list, select the project you want to delete and click Delete project. After selecting the checkbox next to the project name, click
      Delete project
  3. In the dialog, type the project ID, and then click Shut down to delete the project.

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