Deepfaking usually has negative connotations, as the technology first became well known when it was used to create viral internet videos, employing deep learning artificial intelligence (AI) to generate fake photo-realistic images. However, the technology has positive uses in the automotive world, as Oxbotica, a UK-based autonomous (AV) vehicle software company has developed and deployed a deepfake technology that is capable of generating thousands of photo-realistic images in minutes, helping to expose AVs to near-infinite variations of the same situation – without real-world testing of a location.
The AV software firm believes that the technology will make the vehicles of tomorrow smarter and safer, and immediately accelerate the race to autonomy. Sophisticated deepfake algorithms allow Oxbotica to reproduce the same scene in poor weather or adverse conditions, and subject its vehicles to rare occurrences.
The technology can reverse road signage or “class switch”, where one object (such as a tree) is replaced with another (a building perhaps). It can change the lighting of an image, to show a particular frame at a different time of the day or season of the year, all while ensuring shadows or reflections appear exactly as they should. The system then uses these synthetic images to teach its software, producing thousands of accurately labelled, true-to-life experiences and rehearsals which are not real but generated; even down to the raindrops on lenses.
Paul Newman, co-founder and CTO at Oxbotica said, “Using deepfakes is an incredible opportunity for us to increase the speed and efficiency of safely bringing autonomy to any vehicle in any environment – a central focus of our Universal Autonomy vision. What we’re really doing here is training our AI to produce a syllabus for other AIs to learn from. It’s the equivalent of giving someone a fishing rod rather than a fish. It offers remarkable scaling opportunities.
“There is no substitute for real-world testing, but the autonomous vehicle industry has become concerned with the number of miles travelled as a synonym for safety. And yet, you cannot guarantee the vehicle will confront every eventuality, you’re relying on chance encounter. The use of deepfakes enables us to test countless scenarios, which will not only enable us to scale our real-world testing exponentially; it will also be safer.”
The data is generated by an advanced teaching cycle made up of two co-evolving AIs, one attempting to create ever more convincing fake images, while the other tries to detect which are real and which have been reproduced. Oxbotica engineers have designed a feedback mechanism which sees both entities improve over time in a bid to outsmart their adversary. Over time, the company says the detection mechanism will become unable to spot the difference, which will mean the deepfake AI module is ready to be used to generate data to teach other AIs.
Oxbotica says the benefit to AV developers is not in eliminating real experiences, but rather in augmenting them in a way which scales arbitrarily faster than time or human resource. At any one time, Oxbotica is able to generate the experiences of any number of vehicles in any number of settings, taking into account different lighting or weather conditions. The technology allows Oxbotica’s autonomous software to be safely deployed at scale on any vehicle, anywhere around the globe, in any weather conditions and at any time of day.