“Reinventing the wheel?” That’s Audi’s opening statement in its press release about a new tech the company is using. Of course, the German marque isn’t experimenting with new wheel shapes. Rims will keep their circular shape for the foreseeable future but how they are designed could be different – at least for Audi.
Audi has started using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to design new wheels. But before you raise your eyebrows and scream that design is the most human process in making a car, take note that Audi isn’t totally replacing their designers with computers.
Instead, using an in-house developed tech called FelGAN, Audi designers are taking inspiration from wheel designs made by AI.
FelGAN is a mash-up of the German word for “rim” (Felge) and “GAN,” which stands for Generative Adversarial Networks. GANs are a particular form of self-learning computer program that uses two algorithms to compete as opponents during a “training stage.” Both algorithms are designed to learn from their mistakes and improve continuously.
With this process, one of the algorithms will make creations “so deceptively real, that even the human eye cannot, or can only barely, distinguish them from real photos.”
The AI-designed rims will serve as an inspiration for designers – a kind of spontaneous idea hub for Audi’s rim design team. It also allows them to exchange new versions and variations. And ultimately, the tool lets designers easily experiment with shape, color, surface structure, and other parameters in real-time.
This new design process isn’t completely reliant on AI ideas. Audi designers can also feed the program with their own designs and photos, adding them to the virtual experimental surface.
The final step in this design process is to turn the virtual designs into something tangible by producing a prototype of the wheel. This will be either in plastic or aluminum, made using a high-tech milling machine.