Federated Learning in Computer Vision Explained

This article discusses how federated learning changes computer vision by training AI models without sharing raw data. It solves privacy issues and improves model accuracy, using examples like smartphones that are getting better at predicting text. We cover how federated learning works, its challenges, and how to solve them. Finally, we look at real-world uses in medical imaging, smart surveillance, self-driving cars, retail, farming, and smart home device

AI training keeps evolving due to the advancement of new and more sophisticated models, contributing to the rapid growth of the machine learning market, which is projected to reach a staggering USD 503.40 billion by 2030.

This means more data is needed to keep up with the skyrocketing demand. Traditionally, data was collected on a central server and utilized to train the model. However, this straightforward method has sparked concerns regarding data privacy, rendering much valuable yet confidential data unavailable.

In response to these concerns, AI development has begun to move towards a decentralized methodology, leading to the emergence of a new concept known as federated learning. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into this machine-learning model.

What is Federated Learning

Federated learning is a technique where, instead of bringing all the data to one central location to train AI models, the training process is distributed across various devices holding their own data.

This way, each device learns a part of the model locally and only shares model updates, not the data itself, which enhances privacy and reduces data security risks. Essentially, it allows for collaborative learning without compromising data privacy.

Here’s an example of federated learning in real life:

Think of a smartphone company that wants to improve its predictive text feature using federated learning. Instead of collecting all user text data onto a central server, which could raise privacy concerns, each phone trains the AI model locally using the text data generated by its user. The phones then send the model updates—not the actual text data—to a central server.

The server aggregates these updates to enhance the predictive text model and sends the improved model back to all the phones. This way, the predictive text feature gets smarter over time while keeping users' messages private.

That said, here’s why federated learning is a big deal:

  • Security: With federated learning, only encrypted model updates are shared with the central server, ensuring data security. Techniques like the Secure Aggregation Principle further enhance security by decrypting only the aggregated results, not the individual data.
  • Privacy: Unlike traditional approaches where data is sent to a central server for training, federated learning allows the training to happen directly on the edge device, reducing the risk of data breaches.
  • Access to Diverse Data: Federated learning provides access to data distributed across numerous devices, locations, and organizations. This approach enables training models on sensitive information, such as financial or healthcare data, while preserving security and privacy.

Federated Learning Strategies

There are multiple Federated Learning strategies, which we will look at in this section:

1. Heterogeneous Federated Learning (HeteroFL)

HeteroFL was developed to address the limitations of common Federated Learning strategies, which assume that local models are similar to the primary model. In reality, this is rarely the case. HeteroFL can create a single global model for inference after training on multiple varied local models.

Heterogeneous federated learning involves utilizing various clients, including mobile phones, computers, and IoT (Internet of Things) devices. These devices vary significantly in hardware, software, computational power, and the data types they handle.

2. Decentralized Federated Learning

Decentralized federated learning allows multiple devices to collaborate and train a shared model without relying on a central server. Each device trains the model on its own data and then shares updates directly with other devices.

This approach keeps data private on local devices and makes the system more secure by avoiding a single point of failure. It's especially useful in areas where data privacy is crucial, like healthcare and finance.

3. Centralized Federated Learning

Centralized federated learning is the opposite of decentralized federated learning because it depends on a central server to function.

The server manages the initial selection of client devices and collects model updates during training. Communication occurs exclusively between the central server and each individual edge device.

The central server can become a bottleneck, but this method is straightforward and produces accurate models. However, network failures can disrupt the entire process, causing delays or halts.

Federated Learning Challenges

Like any other machine learning model, federated learning has its own share of limitations:

Efficiency in Communication

Effective communication is a big challenge in developing federated network methods. Federated networks can include many devices, like millions of smartphones, making communication within the network much slower than local computations.

Consequently, federated learning relies heavily on communication-efficient strategies that send small messages or model updates during the distributed training process instead of transferring entire datasets across the network.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to boost communication efficiency:

  • Local Updating Methods: This method reduces the number of communication rounds by performing more updates locally before synchronizing with the central server.
  • Model Compression Schemes: Decreasing the size of the messages exchanged by compressing the model updates.
  • Decentralized Training: Enabling the system to function effectively in low bandwidth environments by distributing the training process among multiple devices without relying heavily on a central server.

Systems Heterogeneity

Devices in a federated network often have different storage, computing, and communication capabilities. These differences usually come from variations in hardware (like CPU and memory), network connectivity (3G, 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi), and power supply (battery levels).

Also, only a few devices might be active at any given time. Each device can be unreliable because edge devices might drop out due to connectivity or battery issues. Therefore, fault tolerance is essential, as devices may disconnect before finishing their training tasks.

To handle the differences in device capabilities and reliability in federated learning, here are some tips:

  • Adaptive Algorithms: Create algorithms that adjust to devices' varying capabilities, balancing computational load and communication frequency according to each device’s resources.
  • Asynchronous Updates: Use asynchronous training methods that let devices send updates simultaneously so they don’t all need to be synchronized.
  • Client Selection: Choose devices with enough computational power, reliable connectivity, and sufficient battery life for each training round.
  • Model Compression: This process compresses model updates to reduce size, allowing devices with limited bandwidth and storage to participate.
  • Hierarchical Aggregation: Use a hierarchical approach where edge devices aggregate local updates and send them to a central server, reducing communication overhead and improving scalability.

Data Protection and Security

Even though data remains on the user's device, there is still a risk that sensitive information could be exposed through the model updates shared within the network.

To mitigate these risks, you can employ several standard privacy-preserving techniques:

  • Differential Privacy: This technique adds noise to the data, making it difficult to extract accurate information during a data leak.
  • Homomorphic Encryption: This allows computations on encrypted data, ensuring that sensitive information remains protected.
  • Secure Multi-Party Computation: This method distributes sensitive data among different data owners, enabling them to perform computations while collaboratively reducing the risk of privacy breaches.

Statistical Heterogeneity

This problem arises from the various types of data present across client devices. For example, some devices may have high-resolution images, while others can only store low-resolution pictures. Additionally, language usage may differ based on geographical location.

These variations mean that data in a federated learning setting is non-i.i.d. (non-independent and identically distributed), which contrasts with the i.i.d. assumption in traditional algorithms. This can create challenges in the data structuring, modeling, and inferencing phases.

Federated Learning Use-Cases

Federated learning (FL) is becoming popular in computer vision because it can train models using data from different places without sharing the actual data. Here are six ways federated learning is used in computer vision:

Medical Imaging

  • Collaborative Diagnosis: Hospitals and medical centers can collaboratively train models on diverse medical images (e.g., X-rays, MRIs) without sharing patient data, improving diagnostic accuracy.
  • Rare Disease Detection: Federated learning allows the pooling of rare disease cases from multiple institutions, enhancing the detection and analysis of uncommon conditions.

Smart Surveillance

  • Anomaly Detection: Surveillance cameras in different locations can train models to detect anomalies or suspicious activities without sharing the video footage, preserving privacy.
  • Traffic Monitoring: Federated learning can analyze traffic patterns and incidents across various cities without centralizing vast video data.

Autonomous Vehicles

  • Obstacle Detection: Autonomous vehicles can share insights from their local environments to improve obstacle detection models, enhancing safety and navigation.
  • Traffic Sign Recognition: Vehicles can collaboratively learn to recognize and interpret traffic signs from different regions, accommodating diverse signage systems.

Retail and E-commerce

  • Customer Behavior Analysis: Store security cameras can use federated learning to analyze customer behavior, optimize store layouts, and enhance customer experience while maintaining privacy.
  • Inventory Management: Federated models can help detect shelf status and inventory levels across different store branches, facilitating better inventory management.


  • Crop Monitoring: Drones and cameras used in different farms can collaborate to improve crop health monitoring, pest detection, and yield estimation models.
  • Animal Behavior Analysis: Federated learning can monitor livestock behavior and health across farms, aiding in the early detection of diseases and improving animal welfare.

Smart Home Devices

  • Activity Recognition: Smart home cameras can collaboratively train models to recognize and respond to various activities, enhancing home automation and security.
  • Elderly Care: Federated learning can be used in smart home systems to monitor the well-being of elderly individuals, detecting falls or unusual behaviors without compromising their privacy.

These applications highlight the potential of federated learning to enhance computer vision tasks while preserving data privacy and security across diverse and decentralized environments.

Get ready to join forces!

Interested in working as an AI Trainer?If you're interested in working as an AI Trainer, please apply to join our AI projects community.

Fine-tune your LLMs with expert data.

Get premium AI training data.