Creative people are always looking for inspiration. The same applies to the designers who create rims at the Audi design studio in Ingolstadt. But where to find untapped sources of inspiration?
The principle of “thinking outside the box” is both familiar and endearing. But it is not so easy to implement, because in the creative process people tend to fall back on what is familiar to them.
Suggested new visual patterns
It is precisely this point that the AI-based FelGAN software, an in-house development of Audi’s IT department and Audi Design, addresses. The project now allows creatives to take advantage of a virtually limitless pool of ideas. Interacting with the software allows designers to experience models from completely new angles, giving them suggestions so they can further evolve and work on their designs.
Specifically, FelGAN works by quickly coming up with a large number of photorealistic designs on its own or by recombining existing designs in a targeted manner.
In this way, the system acts as a kind of spontaneous think tank for the Audi wheel design team, allowing them to swap out new versions and variations. The tool allows designers to easily experiment with shapes, slopes, surface structure and other parameters in real time.
How artificial intelligence learned to design rims
The name “FelGAN” combines the German word for “rim” (Felge) and “GAN”, the latter being an acronym for Generative Adversial Networks. GANs are a special form of self-learning computer program in which two algorithms compete as adversaries during what is called training, becoming better and better in competition with each other.
It works like this: One of the two algorithms, the “generator”, creates artificial images of a specific pattern – in FelGAN’s case, a vehicle rim. The discriminator – the adversary, so to speak – sees a selection of images, consisting of real photos of rims alongside images from the generator. Now the discriminator decides whether each image is a generator creation or a real photo. This process is repeated over and over again until the workout is complete.
Both algorithms are designed to learn from your mistakes and continually improve. After several attempts, the generator’s creations are so deceptively real that even the human eye cannot, or can barely, distinguish them from real photographs.
The application’s intuitive user interface, based on Streamlit technology, creates short development cycle times and rapid feedback between the design team and the IT team. So that designers do not have to rely on high-performance local hardware when using the software solution, the AI application components – which require a lot of processing power – run in the cloud.
Cooperation between humans and AI
Another advantage of FelGAN is that the software assigns a mathematical value to each design made by the AI. Referred to by creators as “DNA”, these values can be used at any time to create designs. But that’s not all: Audi designers can also feed the program with their own drawings and photographs, adding them to the virtual experimental surface. This is based on special algorithms that determine the appropriate DNA values for the images the designers feed to them.
Often, designers use only individual elements of FelGAN creations, improving them for a harmonious overall design. In addition to mastering the tools of the trade, the creative eye and professional experience play a decisive role here. Finally, Audi specialists make virtual design a reality by producing a prototype wheel, in plastic or aluminum, using a high-tech milling machine.
Innovations from the world of Audi
FelGAN was developed and implemented through an entirely in-house collaboration between Audi’s IT and design departments. The company thus demonstrates its expertise in the software sector as well as in the future field of AI.
In the future, the technology behind FelGAN could be expanded into a comprehensive AI design platform that will serve as inspiration for designers from other Audi departments. In addition, an AI rating system is currently being developed in which every rim generated by FelGAN will be rated against its carbon footprint. FelGAN is therefore a step taken by Audi to become a data-driven digital company.