Another year, another automaker hopping aboard the latest tech bandwagon. Lexus is trying out AI, and it looks about as good as you’d expect. The Japanese luxury marque has announced that people attending the New York International Auto Show this year will be able to envision an RX 350 crossover or RZ 450e crossover against “nearly any backdrop they like.”
The engine at the heart of this stunt is a proprietary soup cooked up by Toyota Connected North America. Take a cup of Stable Diffusion and a cup of ControlNet, mix them together with a dash of LAION-5B for art styles, feed it all more than 500 pictures of each vehicle, then simmer until extra medium.
From Lexus’s press release about :
…guests attending NYIAS at the Jacob Javits Center from April 7-16 are able to type in a prompt for the Lexus RX or RZ, placing either vehicle in a setting limited only by their imagination, and manifest that vision into existence.
At the Lexus display, guests are guided through prompts that generate images that appear on a 98-inch screen, featuring either the Lexus RX or RZ. Afterward, guests can send themselves their images via email, allowing them to bring their art home with them with nearly any backdrop they could fathom – even in a galaxy far, far away.
To develop the AI art tool, Lexus collaborated with data scientists and machine learning engineers at Toyota Connected North America (TCNA), a data, cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning and software center of excellence headquartered in Plano, Texas. TCNA leveraged state-of-the-art Generative AI models such as Stable Diffusion and ControlNet architectures to train a proprietary Generative AI model to generate photorealistic or artistic style images – all by way of text input. The model was trained on more than 500 photos of each vehicle, capturing every detail imaginable.
The problem is that the results are a bit crap, and what’s hilarious is that Lexus’ has the images on its website under headings like: “2023 New York International Auto Show Guests Use Artificial Intelligence To Create Their Picture-Perfect Lexus.” Check out the wheels on this thing!
Last time I checked, Lexus never used The Relentless Pursuit of Good Enough as a slogan. Look at this image of a new RX 350. Not only do the wheels look like they struck a curb at 70 mph, the lighting is all kinds of weird like a bad photoshop or cheaply-done green screen:
This RZ 450e is a bit better as it leans into the art side of things. The lighting is surprisingly good and the majority of the details aren’t horrendous, but the wheels aren’t even close to round and it looks like someone urinated on the lower bodywork. Awkward.
Here’s another RZ 450e with a side vent that doesn’t exist on the production car, wonky door handles, wheels that couldn’t possibly be structurally sound, a missing bit of black detailing on the front end, and a hood shut line wonkier than a typical shoreline.
The problem with Lexus’ AI image system is that we’ve seen images of similar quality out of DALL-E Mini months ago, and auto show-goers shopping for a new car would prefer a photorealistic configuration rather than some computer’s half-witted interpretation of a car. If I booted up Land Rover’s configurator to customize a new Defender, I wouldn’t appreciate it if the square on the greenhouse looked ovoid.
Those of us who’ve been around at auto shows for several years might remember the array of automakers that tried out augmented reality. Nissan did it with the Cube, Mazda did it with the Mazda 2, and while primitive, it was neat. However, it served a useful purpose. Back in 2010, few manufacturer websites had particularly good 3D models of new cars, and these AR stunts filled a gap. Meanwhile, this AI art business answers a question nobody asked with a solution that’s not very good.
On the plus side, at least Lexus didn’t use its most beautiful cars for this AI attempt. Could you imagine how horrible an LC 500 run through this engine would look? It would have extra gills and a distorted face and ride on semi-circular wheels that would sap all the grace from the gorgeous large grand tourer.
Instead of looking at Lexus’ latest stunt and thinking it’s a good idea, here’s an idea I’m offering to any carmaker for free: VR using a service like Google Streetview. Customers can strap goggles on, and take a look at a new car anywhere in the world — in front of the space needle, beneath Big Ben, in their own driveway, doesn’t matter. Figure out the legwork on that and you’ll have an auto show gimmick that looks fantastic in a press release.
(Photo credits: Lexus)
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