Deep Racer autonomous small-scale cars displayed at PNNL’s Techfest

RICHLAND, Wash. – PNNL tested out their new ‘Deep Racer’ vehicles Thursday at their 6th annual staff Techfest. This involved a race with 1/18th-scale cars.

These Deep Racer cars drive autonomously along a track with a camera. A staff member, meanwhile, uses a tablet to monitor the tracking of the vehicle. They are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand how to accelerate the speed of scientific discovery.

“So, whether you’re a chemist or a biologist, or you’re working in physical sciences, or national security, or so many new battery technologies, machine learning is an artificial things that are really important to helping us accelerate our progress on those fronts,” said Brian Abrahamson, the PNNL Chief Digital Officer.

He said that it is hard for a lot of their scientists because of their lack of exposure to these artificial intelligence and machine learning concepts. He said the Deep Racers were a way of introducing them to it.

“You learn how to effectively put a machine learning model inside of a race car that creates it, makes it autonomous,” Abrahamson said.

He said it wasn’t a research platform, but a learning platform.

They also competed against each other with the Deep Racers, keeping a scoreboard of the fastest times along the track. At times, the racers hit the arena walls. Staff placed them back on track.

At this year’s Techfest, there were flash talks, panel presentations, and keynote addresses from speakers from Google and Microsoft. Abrahamson said the topics were on, “technology, how we address diversity, equity, and inclusion in technology.”

“Today, we’ve got dozens of industry partners and other collaborators that are participating with us.” Abrahamson said. “So, I think the attendance alone demonstrates the power of being able to come together, meet each other, network, develop relationships, and understand what each other are doing and how we’re applying technology in some of our research disciplines, to really advance the science and advance the mission.”

He said that hundreds joined virtually from all around the country. All are staff who work for PNNL, making it the laboratory’s first hybrid Techfest.

“This is our first time we’ve been able to do this in person for a couple of years, so we’re really excited to have everybody back together and, and doing this as a live event,” Abrahamson said.

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