AWS expands DeepRacer league, announces car updates

Last year at AWS re:invent, the company's massive customer conference, Amazon launched a new miniature race car and a racing league, all designed to teach developers about machine learning in a fun way. Now, ahead of next week's re:Invent conference, the company announced some enhancements including an improved car and expanded racing schedule.

"We are adding more chances to compete at AWS events and at your own events, more chances to win with new races, including head-to-head multi-car competitions, and an upgraded DeepRacer car with new sensing capabilities," AWS's Jeff Barr wrote in the company blog announcing the updates.

For starters, there is a new car called DeepRacer Evo that builds on the original model that came out last year. This one includes a new stereo camera and a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor. Barr says these added sensors are more than window dressing.

"The added sensors will enable DeepRacer Evo to skillfully detect and respond to obstacles, including other DeepRacers. This will help you to learn even more about the exciting field of reinforcement learning, which is ideal for use in autonomous driving," he wrote.

You can retro fit your existing car with a sensor upgrade kit, or buy a new DeepRacer Evo. Both will be available early next year, according to the company.

One added element in offering a car like this is building in competition, and that's where the racing league comes in. The company plans to expand the opportunities to compete next year with more races -- and they are expanding the race types. While last year the races were all about speed, they are adding two new categories next year including one to take advantage of the new sensors to detect and avoid obstacles, and head-to-head racing against other cars. Last year's race involved a single car on the track competing to get the fastest time.

As Ryan Gavin, AWS general manager for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning marketing told TechCrunch's Frederic Lardinois earlier this year, this is really about helping developers learn more about advanced technologies.

“We’ve always asked ourselves what are the ways we can take interesting and new and hot technologies in the world of machine learning and find ways to bring those to developers,” he told Lardinois. He added, "And we saw them instantly playing with these deep racers and then starting to race. And it was just kind of that little moment of ‘Oh, this is a really fun and peculiar way to extend what we think is an interesting way to bring reinforcement learning to developers,' but then extend that to this idea of a competition — this first global autonomous racing league — where developer can pit their skills against one another from around the globe.”

Next week at re:Invent, there will plenty of DeepRacer action including the league qualifying races and the championship cup competition for folks already immersed in this. For those who want to learn more or get started, AWS will offer DeepRacer bootcamps and workshops.

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Reporting by Ron Miller for TechCrunch.

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