A few days ago, Amazon announced the DeepRacer robot car, simulator, and global racing league. What is DeepRacer?
DeepRacer is an model racing car with some basic sensors, high quality camera, an accelerometer and a gyroscope, designed for research in Reinforcement Learning. The on-board computer is a dual core Intel Atom with access to 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. DeepRacer can communicate with remote servers using standard Wi-Fi. Amazon’s operating system of choice is Ubuntu 16.04.3 LTS.
Amazon’s focus with DeepRacer is Deep Reinforcement Learning (DRL). Amazon wants researchers and machine learning enthusiasts across the world to develop new reinforcement learning models for self-driving cars using their robot, simulator, and cloud resources.
The car itself will cost you 399$ (US) although you can pre-order one now for the discounted price of 249$ (US). The catch, however, is that the simulator is only available online via Amazon’s cloud service and Amazon expects participants to design, train, and test models using their SageMaker technology. When users signup for the first time, they do get some free credit that is roughly about 10 hours worth of training time with Amazon SageMaker.
So, other than Amazon wanting to make some money out of charging people to use DeepRacer and their DRL stack (which I suspect is only going to be a drop in the money fountain that is AWS) what else might they be trying to gain by releasing DeepRacer?
Well, this is what I think they are up to. Amazon believes that Deep Reinforcement Learning will soon be the go-to technology across a majority of organizations and problems and they want developers and machine learning engineering to be familiar with their platform first. So, when these organizations find use for DRL outside of game playing they will start forking money to Amazon to use their DRL software stack and compute resources. It’s a good strategy and others, such as Microsoft, are trying to do the same with AirSim.
That said, I think DeepRacer might be a wonderful platform for teaching kids programming and robotics. If you buy the hardware, there is no need to use the simulator or train DRL models on SageMaker. Schools can use the hardware to teach students the basics of programming using a fun little robot. I have a feeling that in the next year or two, Amazon will also begin targeting the education sector, so I won’t be surprised if they do come up with a version of DeepRacer for school-age children. I think that would be very cool!
More info here.