Tracker Meets Night: A Transformer Enhancer for UAV Tracking


Most previous progress in object tracking is realized in daytime scenes with favorable illumination. State-of-the-arts can hardly carry on their superiority at night so far, thereby considerably blocking the broadening of visual tracking-related unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) applications. To realize reliable UAV tracking at night, a spatial-channel Transformer-based low-light enhancer (namely SCT), which is trained in a novel task-inspired manner, is proposed and plugged prior to tracking approaches. To achieve semantic-level low-light enhancement targeting the high-level task, the novel spatial-channel attention module is proposed to model global information while preserving local context. In the enhancement process, SCT denoises and illuminates nighttime images simultaneously through a robust non-linear curve projection. Moreover, to provide a comprehensive evaluation, we construct a challenging nighttime tracking benchmark, namely DarkTrack2021, which contains 110 challenging sequences with over 100K frames in total. Evaluations on both the public UAVDark135 benchmark and the newly constructed DarkTrack2021 benchmark show that the task-inspired design enables SCT with significant performance gains for nighttime UAV tracking compared with other top-ranked low-light enhancers. Real-world tests on a typical UAV platform further verify the practicability of the proposed approach. The DarkTrack2021 benchmark and the code of the proposed approach are publicly available at

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 2022 (JCR Q2, IF = 5.2) with ICRA 2022 presentation

Star_plot Overall performance of SOTA trackers with the proposed SCT enabled (markers in a dark color) or not (markers in a light color) in the newly constructed nighttime UAV tracking benchmark—DarkTrack2021. SCT significantly boosts the nighttime tracking performance of trackers in a plug-and-play manner.

Junjie Ye
PhD Candidate in Computer Science at USC, USA