Audi begins using AI to design wheels – Will robots replace designers?

Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece? Well, apparently, they can now design car wheels, as Audi has just showcased with FelGAN, which is the brand’s artificial intelligence (AI)-based software.

“FelGAN” is essentially a combination of “Felge”, which is the German word for “rim”, and “GAN”, which is an acronym for Generative Adversarial Networks. FelGAN was ‘taught’ to design car wheels by having its “generator” produce images that are supposedly car wheels and having a “discriminator” (a person) deciding whether the design is generated or an actual real-life image. After enough runs, the generator’s creations are so deceptively real that even the human eye cannot, or can only barely, distinguish them from real photos.

A designer looking at the AI-generated designs of FelGAN

AI has been used in various mobile apps to generate various images as you’ve probably seen in your social media feed – from avatars to keyword-generated images and even automotive renders. FelGAN works similarly but is currently entirely focused on designing car wheels.

From the pictures shared by Audi, it can be seen that FelGAN generates a set of images of car wheels for the designer to take inspiration from. Audi designers can also feed the program with their own designs and photos, adding them to the virtual experimental surface.

Audi says that often, designers only go on to use individual elements from FelGAN’s creations, refining them into a harmonious overall design. In addition to mastery of the tools of the trade, a creative eye, and professional experience play a decisive role here. Finally, the experts at Audi make the virtual design a reality by producing a prototype of the wheel, either in plastic or aluminium, using a high-tech milling machine.

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The use of AI for design does provide a new pool of inspiration for automotive designers. But with it picking up the ability to generate photo-realistic images so easily, one might wonder how soon it will take until AI can oversee an entire design process. And when it does, will the designs have a touch of humanness?

Audi has also said that in the future, the technology behind FelGAN could be expanded into a comprehensive AI design platform that could also serve as a source of inspiration for designers from other Audi departments. Furthermore, an AI rating system is currently being developed in which each rim generated by FelGAN will be assessed with regard to its carbon balance.

What are your thoughts on Audi using AI to design car wheels? Share your thought with us in the comments below.

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