License plate detection (LPD) is the first and key step in license plate recognition. State-of-the-art object-detection algorithms based on deep learning provide a promising form of LPD. However, there still exist two main challenges. First, existing methods often enclose objects with horizontal rectangles. However, horizontal rectangles are not always suitable since license plates in images are multi-oriented, reflected by rotation and perspective distortion. Second, the scale of license plates often varies, leading to the difficulty of multi-scale detection. To address the aforementioned problems, we propose a novel method of multi-oriented and scale-invariant license plate detection (MOSI-LPD) based on convolutional neural networks. Our MOSI-LPD tightly encloses the multi-oriented license plates with bounding parallelograms, regardless of the license plate scales. To obtain bounding parallelograms, we first parameterize the edge points of license plates by relative positions. Next, we design mapping functions between oriented regions and horizontal proposals. Then, we enforce the symmetry constraints in the loss function and train the model with a multi-task loss. Finally, we map region proposals to three edge points of a nearby license plate, and infer the fourth point to form bounding parallelograms. To achieve scale invariance, we first design anchor boxes based on inherent shapes of license plates. Next, we search different layers to generate region proposals with multiple scales. Finally, we up-sample the last layer and combine proposal features extracted from different layers to recognize true license plates. Experimental results have demonstrated that the proposed method outperforms existing approaches in terms of detecting license plates with different orientations and multiple scales.
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