Oxford software tech’s Deepfake tech brings universal autonomy within sight

Oxbotica car

Leading Oxford-based software company Oxbotica has developed and deployed a “deepfake” technology which it says is capable of generating thousands of photo-realistic images in minutes; helping to expose its autonomous vehicles to the near infinite variations of the same situation – without real-world testing of a location having ever taken place.

The company’s software aims to accelerate the deployment of universal autonomy (if a vehicle is autonomous, it knows where it is, what’s around it and what it should do. Universal autonomy means doing that in all places, at all times, for all vehicles).

Deepfaking, which first shot to fame when it was used to create viral internet videos, employs deep learning artificial intelligence (AI) to generate fake photo-realistic images.

Oxbotica believes that the pioneering technology will make the vehicles of tomorrow smarter and safer, and immediately accelerate the race to autonomy.

Sophisticated deepfake algorithms allow the autonomous vehicle software firm to reproduce the same scene in poor weather or adverse conditions, and subject its vehicles to rare occurrences.

The technology is so advanced that it can reverse road signage or “class switch”, where one object (e.g. a tree) is replaced with another (such as a building). 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. It 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 rain drops 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’ll also be safer.”