Getting started with image classification on Raspberry Pi

by Chris Lovett, Byron Changuion, Ofer Dekel, and Kern Handa

In this tutorial, we will download a pre-trained image classification model from the ELL gallery to a laptop or desktop computer. We will then compile the model and wrap it in a Python module. Finally, we will write a simple Python script that captures images from the Raspberry Pi’s camera and sends them to the Python module for classification.



  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • Raspberry Pi camera or USB webcam
  • optional - Active cooling attachment (see our tutorial on cooling your Pi)


Step 1: Activate your environment and create a tutorial directory

If you followed the setup instructions, you should have an environment named py36. Open a terminal window and activate your Anaconda environment.

[Linux/macOS] source activate py36
[Windows] activate py36

Create a directory for this tutorial anywhere on your computer and cd into it.

Step 2: Download pre-trained model

Download this compressed ELL model file into the directory. The model file contains a pre-trained Deep Neural Network for image classification, and is one of the models available from the ELL gallery. The file’s long name indicates the Neural Network’s architecture, but don’t worry about that for now and save it locally as

curl --location -o

Unzip the compressed file. On Windows, note that the unzip utility is distributed as part of Git, for example, in \Program Files\Git\usr\bin.


Rename the d_I224x224x3CMCMCMCMCMCMC1AS.ell model file to model.ell:

[Linux/macOS] mv d_I224x224x3CMCMCMCMCMCMC1AS.ell model.ell
[Windows] ren d_I224x224x3CMCMCMCMCMCMC1AS.ell model.ell

Next, download the categories.txt file from here and save it in the directory.

curl --location -o categories.txt

This file contains the names of the 1000 categories that the model is trained to recognize. For example, if the model recognizes an object of category 504, we can read line 504 of categories.txt and see that the name of the recognized category is coffee mug.

There should now be a model.ell file and a categories.txt file in the directory.

Step 3: Compile and run the model on your laptop or desktop computer

Before deploying the model to the Raspberry Pi, we will practice deploying it to the laptop or desktop computer. Deploying an ELL model requires two steps. First, we run a tool named wrap, which both compiles model.ell into machine code and generates a CMake project to build a Python wrapper for it. Second, we call CMake to build the Python library.

Run wrap as follows. Please replace <ELL-root> with the path to the location where you have cloned ELL, as described in the installation instructions for your platform.

python <ELL-root>/tools/wrap/ model.ell -lang python -target host

Note that we gave wrap the command line option -target host, which tells it to generate machine code for execution on the laptop or desktop computer, rather than machine code for the Raspberry Pi. If all goes well, you should see the following output.

compiling model...
generating python interfaces for model in host
running opt...
running llc...
success, now you can build the 'host' folder

The wrap tool creates a cmake project in a new directory named host. Create a build directory inside the host directory and change to that directory

cd host
mkdir build
cd build

To finish creating the Python wrapper, build the cmake project.

[Linux/macOS] cmake .. -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release && make && cd ../..
[Windows] cmake -G "Visual Studio 14 2015 Win64" .. && cmake --build . --config release && cd ..\..

We have just created a Python module named model. This module provides functions that report the shapes of the model’s input and output, as well as the predict function, which invokes the model.

Step 4: Invoke the model on your computer

The next step is to create a Python script that loads the model, sends images to it, and interprets the model’s output. If you just want the full script, copy it from here into the directory. Otherwise, create an empty text file named and copy in the code snippets below.

Before writing the script that will use the compiled model, we also want to copy over some Python helper code:

[Linux/macOS] cp <ELL-root>/docs/tutorials/shared/ .
[Windows] copy <ELL-root>\docs\tutorials\shared\ .

First, import a few dependencies and add directories to the path, to allow Python to find the module that we created above.

import cv2
import numpy as np

Import the helper code that we copied over. Note that this must precede importing of the model as it helps find the requisite compiled model files.

import tutorial_helpers as helpers

Next, load the Python module representing the wrapped ELL model.

import model

Print the model’s input and output shapes.

input_shape = model.get_default_input_shape()
output_shape = model.get_default_output_shape()

print("Model input shape: [{0.rows}, {0.columns}, {0.channels}]".format(
print("Model output shape: [{0.rows}, {0.columns}, {0.channels}]".format(

You should see output similar to this.

Model input shape: [224, 224, 3]
Model output shape: [1, 1, 1000]

The input to the model is a 3-channel image of height 224 and width 224, which can also be represented as an array of size 224 * 224 * 3 = 150528. The shape of the output is 1 x 1 x 1000, which can be represented as an array of 1000 elements. Allocate an array to store the model’s output.

predictions = model.FloatVector(output_shape.Size())

Choose an image file to send to the model. For example, use this coffee mug image. Use OpenCV to read the image.

sample_image = cv2.imread("coffeemug.jpg")

The image stored in the sample_image variable cannot be sent to the model as-is, because the model takes its input as an array of float values. Moreover, the model expects the input image to have a certain shape (which, in this case, is 224 x 224 x 3) and a specific ordering of the color channels (in this case, Blue-Green-Red). Since preparing images for the model is such a common operation, we created a helper function for it named prepare_image_for_model.

input_data = helpers.prepare_image_for_model(sample_image, input_shape.columns,

Finally, invoke the model by calling its predict method.

model.predict(input_data, predictions)

The predict method fills the predictions array with non-negative scores that sum to 1. Each element of this array corresponds to one of the 1000 image classes recognized by the model. Print the index of the highest confidence category.

prediction_index = int(np.argmax(predictions))
print("Category index: {}".format(prediction_index))
print("Confidence: {}".format(predictions[prediction_index]))

This code also looks up the category name in the categories array. For example, say that the highest confidence category is category 504. The string in categories[504] is the name of category 504, which happens to be coffee mug. The value at predictions[504] is the model’s confidence that the image contains a coffee mug.

Step 5: Compile the model for execution on the Raspberry Pi

We are ready to cross-compile the model for deployment on the Raspberry Pi. For this, please create a new directory. This new directory will be copied over to the Raspberry Pi. After creating the new directory, copy over the following files from the preceding directory:

  • categories.txt
  • model.ell

As before, run the wrap tool on your laptop or desktop computer, but this time specify the target platform as pi3. This tells the ELL compiler to generate machine code for the Raspberry Pi’s ARM Cortex A53 processor. This step needs to be performed in the directory to be copied to the Raspberry Pi.

python <ELL-root>/tools/wrap/ model.ell -lang python -target pi3

The wrap tool creates a new directory named pi3, which contains a CMake project that can be used to build the desired Python module. This time, we need to build this project on the Raspberry Pi.

To speed up the transfer of files to the Raspberry Pi, you may want to delete the model.ell file first before copying the folder:

[Linux/macOS] rm -f model.ell
[Windows] del model.ell

At this point, you should have a pi3 directory that contains a cmake project that builds the Python wrapper and some helpful Python utilities. The pi3 directory should be inside a directory that also contains and categories.txt.

Step 6: Write code to invoke the model on the Raspberry Pi

We will write a Python script that invokes the model and runs the demo on the Raspberry Pi. The script will load the Python wrapper that we created above, read images from the camera, pass these images to the model, and display the classification results. If you just want the full script, copy it from here. Otherwise, create an empty text file named copy in the code snippets below.

First, import a few dependencies, including system utilities, OpenCV, and NumPy.

import sys
import os
import time
import cv2

Import the helper code that we copied over. Note that this must precede importing of the model as it helps find the requisite compiled model files.

import tutorial_helpers as helpers

Import the Python wrapper for the compiled ELL model.

import model

Add a function that reads an image from the camera.

def get_image_from_camera(camera):
    if camera:
        ret, frame =
        if not ret:
            raise Exception("your capture device is not returning images")
        return frame
    return None

Define the main entry point and use the camera as the image source.

def main():
    camera = cv2.VideoCapture(0)

The argument 0 in the function call above selects the default camera. If you have more than one camera connected to your Pi, choose which camera to use by changing this argument. Next, read the category names from the categories.txt file.

    with open("categories.txt", "r") as categories_file:
        categories =

The model expects its input in a certain shape. Get this shape and store it for use later on.

    input_shape = model.get_default_input_shape()

Create a float array of the model’s output.

    output_shape = model.get_default_output_shape()
    predictions = model.FloatVector(output_shape.Size())

Next, set up a loop that keeps going until OpenCV indicates it is done, which is when the user hits any key. At the start of each iteration, read an image from the camera.

    while (cv2.waitKey(1) & 0xFF) == 0xFF:
        image = get_image_from_camera(camera)

As mentioned above, the image stored in the image variable cannot be sent to the model as-is and needs to be processed using the prepare_image_for_model function, from the helpers module.

        input_data = helpers.prepare_image_for_model(
            image, input_shape.columns, input_shape.rows)

With the processed image input handy, call the predict method to invoke the model.

        model.predict(input_data, predictions)

As before, the predict method fills the predictions array with the model output. Each element of this array corresponds to one of the 1000 image classes recognized by the model. Extract the top 5 predicted categories by calling the helper function get_top_n.

        top_5 = helpers.get_top_n(predictions, 5)

top_5 is an array of tuples, where the first element in each tuple is the category index and the second element is the probability of that category. Match the category indices in top_5 with the corresponding names in categories and construct a string that represents the model output.

        header_text = ", ".join(["({:.0%}) {}".format(
            element[1], categories[element[0]]) for element in top_5])

Use the draw_header helper function to display the predicted category on the Raspberry Pi’s display. Also display the camera image.

        helpers.draw_header(image, header_text)
        cv2.imshow("ELL model", image)

Finally, write the code that invokes the main function and runs your script.

if __name__ == "__main__":

We are ready to move to the Raspberry Pi. If your Pi is accessible over the network, you can copy directory using the Unix scp tool or the Windows WinSCP tool.

Step 7: Build the Python module on the Raspberry Pi

Log into your Raspberry Pi, find the directory you just copied from your computer, and build the python module that wraps the ELL model.

cd pi3
mkdir build
cd build
cmake .. -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release
cd ../..

We just created a Python module named model, which includes functions that report the model’s input and output dimensions and enables us to pass images to the model for classification.

Step 8: Classify live video on the Raspberry Pi

If you followed the Raspberry Pi Setup Instructions, you should have an anaconda environment named py34. Activate it and run the script that we wrote above.

source activate py34

If you have a camera and display connected to your Pi, you should see a window similar to the screenshot at the top of this page. Point your camera at different objects and see how the model classifies them. Look at categories.txt to see which categories the model is trained to recognize and try to show those objects to the model. For quick experimentation, point the camera to your computer screen and have your computer display images of different objects. For example, experiment with different dog breeds and other types of animals.

If you copied the full script from here, you will also see the average time in milliseconds it takes the model to process each image. If you compare the displayed time with the time indicated in the ELL gallery, you will notice that your model runs slower than it should. The slow down is caused by inefficiencies in the Python wrapper, and we are working to fix this problem. To run the model at its top speed, follow the C++ version of this tutorial.

Next steps

The ELL gallery offers different models for image classification. Some are slow and accurate, while others are faster and less accurate. Different models can even lead to different power draw on the Raspberry Pi. Repeat the steps above with different models.

We used the wrap tool as a convenient way to compile the model and prepare for building its Python wrapper. To understand what wrap does under the hood, read the wrap documentation.


If you run into trouble, you can find some troubleshooting instructions at the bottom of the Raspberry Pi Setup Instructions.