In late 2018 I was lucky enough to attend re:Invent, AWS’s premier conference in Las Vegas.
If you have never been to re:Invent before it’s a total blast. The technical sessions are incredible, with some of the best engineers on the planet speaking about their work. This isn’t a sales conference, this is hardcore with many of the high level sessions being extremely technical.
Combined with over-the-top production, an amazing expo hall (or three), seemingly endless food and drink available and more parties than your liver can handle it’s easily the best conference I’ve ever attended.
This year we were lucky enough to make it into one of the sessions where AWS unveiled their new product, the AWS DeepRacer.
The DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale race car which is programmed to drive itself around a track using reinforcement learning.
Training is all done in a simulated environment before the final model is loaded onto the car to test on a real-world track.
AWS had taken over the whole MGM arena to set up several tracks where people were able to have a go, either using a pre-trained model or by uploading one they had previously worked on. The people with the top three times would then get to race live in a final on the main stage just before the keynote the next day.
This sounded fun, so our team (comprising four of us from Jigsaw.XYZ) went along and queued up for a go.
What is evident here is that this is extremely early days. Most of the models being used (even the pre-trained ones) can barely make one or two corners before going off track so the result is that you spend your time on track chasing after the car (in your socks) and putting it back on the track.
My own attempt was fairly pitiful, however team-mate Rick Fish managed to pull out a very respectable time placing us 2nd overall in the current standings!
Unfortunately before we even left the hall someone had bumped us down to 3rd, then 4th and without enough time left for another run we assumed that was it for our finals hopes and headed off down Fremont street for some dinner and drinks.
Just before midnight we received a call. Someone had pulled out and we were now technically in third position… we now had the option of competing on stage in the grand final, however this meant being at the venue well before 7am, a little over 7 hours from now!
Somewhat apprehensively we accepted and agreed that Rick would represent us on stage and immediately headed back to our hotel to try to prepare.
Come 7am the next morning and we find ourselves quite hungover sitting in the front row next to Andy Jassy (CEO of AWS) in the largest auditorium in the Venetion, surrounded by literally thousands of people.
The first two contestants make their runs and while not spectacular our hopes aren’t high of being able to beat them.
Rick takes the stage and even from the first corner we knew we had a chance as it seemed smoother and accelerated nicely down the straight, eventually crossing the finishing line with a time of 51.50 seconds, taking first place!
The whole place cheers while Rick accepts a giant trophy (which sadly we didn’t get to keep, although they sent us a nice miniature version).
Massively unexpected and we’re on a huge buzz for the whole day. We also get to pick up some DeepRacer cars of our own to send home.
That night is the huge re:Play party which is absolutely insane… Rick in his winners jacket getting constantly congratulated by people saying how awesome it all was.
A truly surreal to an amazing week.
Now we have to start preparing for next year as defending champions!