Building a DeepRacer track can be a fun and rewarding experience. Here are some things to consider before getting started:
- Figure out the amount of space that you have.
- Figure out how often you are going to race.
- Figure out if you want to build a DeepRacer signature track (tracks in the console).
- Consider building a custom track for your surroundings.
Building a signature DeepRacer track takes up the most space and in most cases, you will not be able to dedicate that amount of real estate to keep it up day in and day out. Building your own track personalized to your space is an efficient option and usually, you can have it up year-round.
Here at South Hills High School, we determined that we needed two tracks. One inside the classroom that will always be there, and one that is mobile that could be installed anywhere throughout campus. Building a track that can be used anywhere on campus can help promote the program and draw more students into the pathway. It can also be utilized to host racing events with other schools or clubs.
Our mobile track utilizes 2’ X 2’ foam panels. The panels come in a box of 36 and you will need 4 boxes to build the 2018 re:Invent Track. You can purchase them on Amazon for $109.18/box at the time of this writing. The mobile track was so large that we had to build it in sections in a certain section in the classroom. We used the non-grip (smooth) side for the best application for the tape.
For both tracks, we used 2” white duct tape for the white lines and 2” yellow duct tape cut into 1” wide strips for the center line. For the classroom track we used 1” yellow masking tape cut into 1” strips for the center line. We only used masking tape because it worked well with the carpet, it was only later that we discovered that duct tape was a stronger option. Pictured below are the items we used in the build with prices and lengths listed. This should give you a good basis to go off of for estimating the cost of your project.
A chalk line was used to assure everything ran parallel. We also used string and a “Chalk Writer” to do the curves. The curves are the hardest part of making the track for a couple of reasons. Getting the proper radius of the turn and getting your tape to turn around the curve.
A neat invention that the kids came up with was a metal ruler plus a T-square. Both items had a hole on one end, probably used for hanging more than anything else, but as you can see it became a great tool to get the exact turning radius. We taped the T-Square onto the metal ruler. Then, we stuck a screwdriver through the hole of the metal ruler and into the foam padding. We were able to put the Chalk Writer through the T-Square hole and as we moved the apparatus it wrote on the foam panel (see picture below). If not already invented, a tool like this should be made available at the local hardware store 😉.
Secondly, to get the tape to turn around the edges, we cut the tape into ~2″ wide sections and just slightly turned the square each time to allow it to stay on the radius of the turn.
Below are the tools used on both the classroom and the mobile track. Not included are the rags and spray water bottle used when lines didn’t seem to quite make sense. With the Chalk Writer, we just erased and started again. A resounding round of applause 👏 for the creator of these fantastic pens. Pick them up at a dollar store for $1.25 🤔.
If you are building a classroom track, it is beneficial to start thinking about how to protect the track from foot traffic from your students. I used rose-colored construction paper at first but it was difficult to have the entire track covered and the foot traffic soon turned the paper into what my students deemed as “salad.” I was then able to get some “Ram Board” donated. Three things came from laying down Ram Board (Sometimes referred to as X Board):
- It easily took foot traffic and never broke down
- It allowed me to put the rose paper on the walls to help the car quickly determine its surroundings
- When tipped up, it provided a great interior wall as seen below.
After completing the mobile track, it will be necessary to use an artistic Exacto knife to cut the taper around the jig saw pieces. This allows the track to come apart easily and mesh the tape back together when reassembling the track.
We want to compete with others in our community using these tracks. We feel that as cloud computing becomes normal, more and more schools will be looking for a similar tool to inspire students to learn about cloud computing. We want to upskill students in our community to understand how these tools work and to utilize machine learning to solve other local problems.
Along with building tracks, I have had a senior student working on setting up (8) on-premise machines that will allow students to train their vehicles locally. Since becoming an Amazon Future Engineering school, we have access to the AWS academy accounts and $100 student budget for training. However, students are burning through their $100 and it seems that localized training can help with the AWS spend. Also, I feel that this will help with pure enthusiasm as the students get to see the analytical tools made available through localized training.
A huge shout out to the following articles for all the technical help for measuring angles and grid alignment for the mobile track:
Guide to Creating a Full re:Invent 2018 DeepRacer Track in 7 Steps
How to Build a DeepRacer Track
These articles gave us a real head start on building our track. I am not recreating these articles here, and I recommend anyone who wants to build a track, to print these articles and study them.
Here are some online resources you can use to learn more about building a DeepRacer track:
DeepRacer Community: The DeepRacer Community is a forum dedicated to all things related to DeepRacer, including building tracks. You can find valuable information and tips from other enthusiasts who have built tracks.
AWS DeepRacer Workshop: AWS offers a free online workshop on how to build a DeepRacer track. The workshop covers the basics of track design, including creating the track surface, adding borders, and barriers.
DeepRacer E-book: The DeepRacer E-book is a free resource that covers everything you need to know about DeepRacer, including track building. The e-book provides a step-by-step guide on how to build a track, along with helpful tips and best practices.
YouTube Tutorials: There are several YouTube tutorials available that cover the process of building a DeepRacer track. Some popular channels include AWS DeepRacer, XPO Technology, and MyAWS Guru.
DeepRacer Slack Channel: The DeepRacer Slack Channel is a community-driven resource where you can ask questions and get feedback on your track design 👍🏽.
When driving the car on either our classroom track or our mobile track, we paid particular attention to what the car was seeing. You can do this by viewing what the vehicle camera sees on the Web site that your vehicle corresponds with via its private network. We also know, through study, that the car takes 15 pictures a second and enters every pixel into a neural network for analysis. Therefore, if in the background you have whites and yellows that it could mistake for the out-of-bound lines and center lines it can get confused and keep your vehicle from staying on the track.
That is the point that we decided to put our rose-colored construction paper on the walls and the Ram Board on the inside walls. For the mobile track, we had the same problem and are considering buying or making wall barriers to keep the vehicle from mistaking images it sees in the background as key track markers.
Also, why consider a physical model when the virtual one is easy with less cleanup? I find many of my students are into RC cars. It is a real hook that they get to play with RC cars in my class. When they were offered to build a track, they jumped right in, knowing that they were building it for this 1/18 scale car. They immediately took ownership and built (2) tracks in the span of 4 months. It was hard to resist jumping in and finishing the track for them, but I was patient and let them complete the track themselves. I do the same with the car. Let them pull it apart and add oil to the shocks and adjust the servo. Sure it takes away from coding time but this is where we are now, mixing software with hardware.
Remember, building a track is a fun and creative process, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things! Building a DeepRacer track requires careful planning and attention to detail. With the right materials and tools, it is possible to build a track that provides a challenging environment for training and testing autonomous driving models.