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Shallow Networks for Pattern Recognition, Clustering and Time Series

Neural networks are composed of simple elements operating in parallel. These elements are inspired by biological nervous systems. As in nature, the connections between elements largely determine the network function. You can train a neural network to perform a particular function by adjusting the values of the connections (weights) between elements.

Typically, neural networks are adjusted, or trained, so that a particular input leads to a specific target output. The next figure illustrates such a situation. Here, the network is adjusted, based on a comparison of the output and the target, until the network output matches the target. Typically, many such input/target pairs are needed to train a network.

Neural networks have been trained to perform complex functions in various fields, including pattern recognition, identification, classification, speech, vision, and control systems.

Neural networks can also be trained to solve problems that are difficult for conventional computers or human beings. The toolbox emphasizes the use of neural network paradigms that build up to—or are themselves used in— engineering, financial, and other practical applications.

The following topics explain how to use graphical tools for training neural networks to solve problems in function fitting, pattern recognition, clustering, and time series. Using these tools can give you an excellent introduction to the use of the Neural Network Toolbox™ software:

Shallow Network Apps and Functions in Neural Network Toolbox

There are four ways you can use the Neural Network Toolbox software.

  • The first way is through its tools. You can open any of these tools from a master tool started by the command nnstart. These tools provide a convenient way to access the capabilities of the toolbox for the following tasks:

  • The second way to use the toolbox is through basic command-line operations. The command-line operations offer more flexibility than the tools, but with some added complexity. If this is your first experience with the toolbox, the tools provide the best introduction. In addition, the tools can generate scripts of documented MATLAB® code to provide you with templates for creating your own customized command-line functions. The process of using the tools first, and then generating and modifying MATLAB scripts, is an excellent way to learn about the functionality of the toolbox.

  • The third way to use the toolbox is through customization. This advanced capability allows you to create your own custom neural networks, while still having access to the full functionality of the toolbox. You can create networks with arbitrary connections, and you still be able to train them using existing toolbox training functions (as long as the network components are differentiable).

  • The fourth way to use the toolbox is through the ability to modify any of the functions contained in the toolbox. Every computational component is written in MATLAB code and is fully accessible.

These four levels of toolbox usage span the novice to the expert: simple tools guide the new user through specific applications, and network customization allows researchers to try novel architectures with minimal effort. Whatever your level of neural network and MATLAB knowledge, there are toolbox features to suit your needs.

Automatic Script Generation

The tools themselves form an important part of the learning process for the Neural Network Toolbox software. They guide you through the process of designing neural networks to solve problems in four important application areas, without requiring any background in neural networks or sophistication in using MATLAB. In addition, the tools can automatically generate both simple and advanced MATLAB scripts that can reproduce the steps performed by the tool, but with the option to override default settings. These scripts can provide you with templates for creating customized code, and they can aid you in becoming familiar with the command-line functionality of the toolbox. It is highly recommended that you use the automatic script generation facility of these tools.

Neural Network Toolbox Applications

It would be impossible to cover the total range of applications for which neural networks have provided outstanding solutions. The remaining sections of this topic describe only a few of the applications in function fitting, pattern recognition, clustering, and time-series analysis. The following table provides an idea of the diversity of applications for which neural networks provide state-of-the-art solutions.


Business Applications


High-performance aircraft autopilot, flight path simulation, aircraft control systems, autopilot enhancements, aircraft component simulation, and aircraft component fault detection


Automobile automatic guidance system, and warranty activity analysis


Check and other document reading and credit application evaluation


Weapon steering, target tracking, object discrimination, facial recognition, new kinds of sensors, sonar, radar and image signal processing including data compression, feature extraction and noise suppression, and signal/image identification


Code sequence prediction, integrated circuit chip layout, process control, chip failure analysis, machine vision, voice synthesis, and nonlinear modeling


Animation, special effects, and market forecasting


Real estate appraisal, loan advising, mortgage screening, corporate bond rating, credit-line use analysis, credit card activity tracking, portfolio trading program, corporate financial analysis, and currency price prediction


Prediction of industrial processes, such as the output gases of furnaces, replacing complex and costly equipment used for this purpose in the past


Policy application evaluation and product optimization


Manufacturing process control, product design and analysis, process and machine diagnosis, real-time particle identification, visual quality inspection systems, beer testing, welding quality analysis, paper quality prediction, computer-chip quality analysis, analysis of grinding operations, chemical product design analysis, machine maintenance analysis, project bidding, planning and management, and dynamic modeling of chemical process system


Breast cancer cell analysis, EEG and ECG analysis, prosthesis design, optimization of transplant times, hospital expense reduction, hospital quality improvement, and emergency-room test advisement

Oil and gas



Trajectory control, forklift robot, manipulator controllers, and vision systems


Market analysis, automatic bond rating, and stock trading advisory systems


Speech recognition, speech compression, vowel classification, and text-to-speech synthesis


Image and data compression, automated information services, real-time translation of spoken language, and customer payment processing systems


Truck brake diagnosis systems, vehicle scheduling, and routing systems

Shallow Neural Network Design Steps

In the remaining sections of this topic, you will follow the standard steps for designing neural networks to solve problems in four application areas: function fitting, pattern recognition, clustering, and time-series analysis. The work flow for any of these problems has seven primary steps. (Data collection in step 1, while important, generally occurs outside the MATLAB environment.)

  1. Collect data

  2. Create the network

  3. Configure the network

  4. Initialize the weights and biases

  5. Train the network

  6. Validate the network

  7. Use the network

You will follow these steps using both the GUI tools and command-line operations in the following sections:

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