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Explore Semantic Segmentation Network Using Grad-CAM

This example shows how to explore the predictions of a semantic segmentation network using Grad-CAM.

A semantic segmentation network classifies every pixel in an image, resulting in an image that is segmented by class. You can use Grad-CAM, a deep learning visualization technique, to see which regions of the image are important for the pixel classification decision.

Load Data Set

This example uses the CamVid data set [1] from the University of Cambridge for training. This data set is a collection of images containing street-level views obtained while driving. The data set provides pixel-level labels for 32 semantic classes, including car, pedestrian, and road.

Download CamVid Data Set

Download the CamVid data set.


imageURL = '';
labelURL = '';

outputFolder = fullfile(tempdir,'CamVid'); 
labelsZip = fullfile(outputFolder,'');
imagesZip = fullfile(outputFolder,'');

if ~exist(labelsZip, 'file') || ~exist(imagesZip,'file')   
    disp('Downloading 16 MB CamVid data set labels...'); 
    websave(labelsZip, labelURL);
    unzip(labelsZip, fullfile(outputFolder,'labels'));
    disp('Downloading 557 MB CamVid data set images...');  
    websave(imagesZip, imageURL);       
    unzip(imagesZip, fullfile(outputFolder,'images'));    
Downloading 16 MB CamVid data set labels...
Downloading 557 MB CamVid data set images...

Load CamVid Images

Use an imageDatastore to load the CamVid images. The imageDatastore enables you to efficiently load a large collection of images on disk.

imgDir = fullfile(outputFolder,'images','701_StillsRaw_full');
imds = imageDatastore(imgDir);

The data set contains 32 classes. To make training easier, reduce the number of classes to 11 by grouping multiple classes from the original data set together. For example, create a "Car" class that combines the "Car", "SUVPickupTruck", "Truck_Bus", "Train", and "OtherMoving" classes from the original data set. Return the grouped label IDs by using the supporting function camvidPixelLabelIDs, which is listed at the end of this example.

classes = [

labelIDs = camvidPixelLabelIDs;

Use the classes and label IDs to create a pixelLabelDatastore.

labelDir = fullfile(outputFolder,'labels');
pxds = pixelLabelDatastore(labelDir,classes,labelIDs);

Load Pretrained Semantic Segmentation Network

Load a pretrained semantic segmentation network. The pretrained model allows you to run the entire example without having to wait for training to complete. This example loads a trained Deeplab v3+ network with weights initialized from a pretrained Resnet-18 network. For more information on building and training a semantic segmentation network, see Semantic Segmentation Using Deep Learning.

pretrainedURL = '';
pretrainedFolder = fullfile(tempdir,'pretrainedNetwork');
pretrainedNetwork = fullfile(pretrainedFolder,'deeplabv3plusResnet18CamVid.mat');

if ~exist(pretrainedNetwork,'file')
    disp('Downloading pretrained network (58 MB)...');
Downloading pretrained network (58 MB)...
pretrainedNet = load(pretrainedNetwork); 
net =;

Test Network

The trained semantic segmentation network predicts the label of each pixel within an image. You can test the network by predicting the pixel labels of an image.

Load a test image.

img = readimage(imds,615);

Use the semanticseg function to predict the pixel labels of the image by using the trained semantic segmentation network.

predLabels = semanticseg(img,net);

Display the results.

cmap = camvidColorMap;
segImg = labeloverlay(img,predLabels,'Colormap',cmap,'Transparency',0.4);


You can see that the network labels the parts of the image fairly accurately. The network does misclassify some areas, for example, the road to the left of the intersection, which is partially misclassified as pavement.

Explore Network Predictions

Deep networks are complex, so understanding how a network determines a particular prediction is difficult. You can use Grad-CAM to see which areas of the test image the semantic segmentation network is using to make its pixel classifications.

Grad-CAM computes the gradient of a differentiable output, such as class score, with respect to the convolutional features in a chosen layer. Grad-CAM is typically used for image classification tasks [2]; however, it can also be extended to semantic segmentation problems [3].

In semantic segmentation tasks, the softmax layer of the network outputs a score for each class for every pixel in the original image. This contrasts with standard image classification problems, where the softmax layer outputs a score for each class for the entire image. The Grad-CAM map for class c is

Mc=ReLU(kαckAk) where αck=1/Ni,jdycdAi,jk

N is the number of pixels, Ak is the feature map of interest, and yc corresponds to a scalar class score. For a simple image classification problem, yc is the softmax score for the class of interest. For semantic segmentation, you can obtainyc by reducing the pixel-wise class scores for the class of interest to a scalar. For example, sum over the spatial dimensions of the softmax layer: yc=(i,j)Pyi,jc, where P is the pixels in the output layer of a semantic segmentation network [3]. In this example, the output layer is the softmax layer before the pixel classification layer. The map Mc highlights areas that influence the decision for class c. Higher values indicate regions of the image that are important for the pixel classification decision.

To use Grad-CAM, you must select a feature layer to extract the feature map from and a reduction layer to extract the output activations from. Use analyzeNetwork to find the layers to use with Grad-CAM.


Specify a feature layer. Typically this is a ReLU layer which takes the output of a convolutional layer at the end of the network.

featureLayer = 'dec_relu4';

Specify a reduction layer. The gradCAM function sums the spatial dimensions of the reduction layer, for the specified classes, to produce a scalar value. This scalar value is then differentiated with respect to each feature in the feature layer. For semantic segmentation problems, the reduction layer is usually the softmax layer.

reductionLayer = 'softmax-out';

Compute the Grad-CAM map for the road and pavement classes.

classes = ["Road" "Pavement"];

gradCAMMap = gradCAM(net,img,classes, ...
    'ReductionLayer',reductionLayer, ...

Compare the Grad-CAM map for the two classes to the semantic segmentation map.

predLabels = semanticseg(img,net);
segMap = labeloverlay(img,predLabels,'Colormap',cmap,'Transparency',0.4);

title('Test Image')
title('Semantic Segmentation')
hold on
title('Grad-CAM: ' + classes(1))
colormap jet
hold on
title('Grad-CAM: ' + classes(2))
colormap jet

The Grad-CAM maps and semantic segmentation map show similar highlighting. None of the maps distinguish the road to the left of the intersection, which the semantic segmentation map labels as pavement. The Grad-CAM map for the pavement class shows that the edge of the pavement is more important than the center for the classification decision of the network. The network possibly misclassifies the road to the left of the intersection due to the poor visibility of the pavement edge.

Explore Intermediate Layers

The Grad-CAM map resembles the semantic segmentation map when you use a layer near the end of the network for the computation. You can also use Grad-CAM to investigate intermediate layers in the trained network. Earlier layers have a small receptive field size and learn small, low-level features compared to the layers at the end of the network.

Compute the Grad-CAM map for layers that are successively deeper in the network.

layers = ["res5b_relu","catAspp","dec_relu1"];
numLayers = length(layers);

The res5b_relu layer is near the middle of the network, whereas dec_relu1 is near the end of the network.

Investigate the network classification decisions for the car, road, and pavement classes. For each layer and class, compute the Grad-CAM map.

classes = ["Car" "Road" "Pavement"];
numClasses = length(classes);

gradCAMMaps = [];
for i = 1:numLayers
    gradCAMMaps(:,:,:,i) = gradCAM(net,img,classes, ...
        'ReductionLayer',reductionLayer, ...

Display the Grad-CAM maps for each layer and each class. The rows represent the map for each layer, with the layers ordered from those early in the network to those at the end of the network.

idx = 1;
for i=1:numLayers
    for j=1:numClasses
        hold on
        title(sprintf("%s (%s)",classes(j),layers(i)), ...
        colormap jet
        idx = idx + 1;

The later layers produce maps very similar to the segmentation map. However, the layers earlier in the network produce more abstract results and are typically more concerned with lower level features like edges, with less awareness of semantic classes. For example, in the maps for earlier layers, you can see that for both car and road classes, the traffic light is highlighted. This suggests that the earlier layers focus on areas of the image that are related to the class but do not necessarily belong to it. For example, a traffic light is likely to appear near to a road, so the network might be using this information to predict which pixels are roads. You can also see that for the pavement class, the earlier layers are highly focused on the edge, suggesting this feature is important to the network when detecting which pixels are in the pavement class.


[1] Brostow, Gabriel J., Julien Fauqueur, and Roberto Cipolla. “Semantic Object Classes in Video: A High-Definition Ground Truth Database.” Pattern Recognition Letters 30, no. 2 (January 2009): 88–97.

[2] Selvaraju, R. R., M. Cogswell, A. Das, R. Vedantam, D. Parikh, and D. Batra. "Grad-CAM: Visual Explanations from Deep Networks via Gradient-Based Localization." In IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision (ICCV), 2017, pp. 618–626. Available at Grad-CAM on the Computer Vision Foundation Open Access website.

[3] Vinogradova, Kira, Alexandr Dibrov, and Gene Myers. “Towards Interpretable Semantic Segmentation via Gradient-Weighted Class Activation Mapping (Student Abstract).” Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence 34, no. 10 (April 3, 2020): 13943–44.

Supporting Functions

function labelIDs = camvidPixelLabelIDs()
% Return the label IDs corresponding to each class.
% The CamVid data set has 32 classes. Group them into 11 classes following
% the original SegNet training methodology [1].
% The 11 classes are:
%   "Sky", "Building", "Pole", "Road", "Pavement", "Tree", "SignSymbol",
%   "Fence", "Car", "Pedestrian",  and "Bicyclist".
% CamVid pixel label IDs are provided as RGB color values. Group them into
% 11 classes and return them as a cell array of M-by-3 matrices. The
% original CamVid class names are listed alongside each RGB value. Note
% that the Other/Void class are excluded below.
labelIDs = { ...
    % "Sky"
    128 128 128; ... % "Sky"
    % "Building" 
    000 128 064; ... % "Bridge"
    128 000 000; ... % "Building"
    064 192 000; ... % "Wall"
    064 000 064; ... % "Tunnel"
    192 000 128; ... % "Archway"
    % "Pole"
    192 192 128; ... % "Column_Pole"
    000 000 064; ... % "TrafficCone"
    % Road
    128 064 128; ... % "Road"
    128 000 192; ... % "LaneMkgsDriv"
    192 000 064; ... % "LaneMkgsNonDriv"
    % "Pavement"
    000 000 192; ... % "Sidewalk" 
    064 192 128; ... % "ParkingBlock"
    128 128 192; ... % "RoadShoulder"
    % "Tree"
    128 128 000; ... % "Tree"
    192 192 000; ... % "VegetationMisc"
    % "SignSymbol"
    192 128 128; ... % "SignSymbol"
    128 128 064; ... % "Misc_Text"
    000 064 064; ... % "TrafficLight"
    % "Fence"
    064 064 128; ... % "Fence"
    % "Car"
    064 000 128; ... % "Car"
    064 128 192; ... % "SUVPickupTruck"
    192 128 192; ... % "Truck_Bus"
    192 064 128; ... % "Train"
    128 064 064; ... % "OtherMoving"
    % "Pedestrian"
    064 064 000; ... % "Pedestrian"
    192 128 064; ... % "Child"
    064 000 192; ... % "CartLuggagePram"
    064 128 064; ... % "Animal"
    % "Bicyclist"
    000 128 192; ... % "Bicyclist"
    192 000 192; ... % "MotorcycleScooter"
function pixelLabelColorbar(cmap, classNames)
% Add a colorbar to the current axis. The colorbar is formatted
% to display the class names with the color.


% Add a colorbar to the current figure.
c = colorbar('peer', gca);

% Use class names for tick marks.
c.TickLabels = classNames;
numClasses = size(cmap,1);

% Center tick labels.
c.Ticks = 1/(numClasses*2):1/numClasses:1;

% Remove tick marks.
c.TickLength = 0;

function cmap = camvidColorMap
% Define the colormap used by the CamVid data set.

cmap = [
    128 128 128   % Sky
    128 0 0       % Building
    192 192 192   % Pole
    128 64 128    % Road
    60 40 222     % Pavement
    128 128 0     % Tree
    192 128 128   % SignSymbol
    64 64 128     % Fence
    64 0 128      % Car
    64 64 0       % Pedestrian
    0 128 192     % Bicyclist

% Normalize between [0 1].
cmap = cmap ./ 255;