Amazon Enters Self-Driving Car World With an Old, Successful Strategy

Amazon is making the development of effective self-driving cars a sport. On Wednesday, the company announced during the AWS re:Invent conference that it will host the world’s first global autonomous racing league in 2019, dubbed the DeepRacer League, or DRL.

The initiative will organize both live and virtual events, where coders pit their machine learning algorithms against each other using toy cars. League competition begins early next year.

The 1/18th-scale model car comes with an Intel processor, a 4-megapixel, multiple USB ports, and a 2-hour battery life. The DeepRacer is now available for pre-order for $249 and will be released in March 2019 for $399.

Amazon will hold live racing events in London, Tokyo, Sydney, Singapore, New York, as well as online throughout the year. The top ten competitors on the leaderboards will advance to the AWS DeepRacer Championship Cup where the fastest, most effective A.I. will face off. The goal being the creation of a system that can be used to operate real-life autonomous cars.

amazon deepracer toy car
Amazon's newly announced DeepRacer mini-car.

Automobile Racing Made Commercial Cars What They Are Today

Past automobile innovation suggests that turning the race toward self-driving cars into an open-source competition could yield some promising results. Auto racing was the driver of engineering innovation in the first half of the 20th century if Amazon’s DRL is successful, toy car races could be the catalyst of self-driving technology in the future.

Disc brakes are found in almost every commercially available car today. One of their earliest adopters was the Jaguar C-Type that managed to win the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans with these types of brakes. Two years later, the Citroën DS was the first mass-produced car to adopt them.

Shock absorbers that led to the modern-day suspension system were first used in 1901 in the winning car of the Paris-to-Berlin race. The world’s first car with the now-popular dual overhead camshaft engine design won the French Grand Prix in 1912.

disc brake
The disc brake system came about from motor racing.

Amazon hopes to do the same by making the development of self-driving cars into a project that involves the public, not just established Silicon Valley giants like Waymo, which spun out of Google, Tesla, Apple, Uber, and others. Perhaps in 100 years, we’ll look back at footage of tiny cars spinning doing laps of a toy race track as the precursor the autonomous cars.

A Similar Strategy Is Being Employed For Autonomous Drones

The Drone Racing League and Lockheed Martin also partnered to create the AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge. This tournament will pit the League’s best drone pilots against A.I. powered, autonomous-drones.

This initiative aims to bring about a self-flying system that can be used to fight wildfires or explore deep-space without the need for human pilots. Much like Amazon’s DeepRacer League, contestants will use standardized drones to compete for $2 million in prizes.

The technology might change through the years, but friendly competition seems to remain the method of choice of bringing about cutting-edge innovation.

See more photos of the Amazon AWS DeepRacer: