November 28, 2018 / 11:02 PM / 12 days ago

Amazon's latest gadget: a self-driving toy car for coders

Amazon.com Inc's autonomous toy car, The AWS DeepRacer, one-eighteenth the size of a real race car, aimed at helping web developers try some some of their own self-driving technology, is shown in this handout photo provided November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Amazon.com/Handout via REUTERS

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Self-driving cars, meet Amazon’s self-driving toys.

Amazon.com Inc’s cloud unit on Wednesday announced a $399 autonomous toy car, aimed at helping web developers try out some of their own self-driving technology. Customers can train and tweak machine learning models in an online simulator and then test drive them on vehicles one-eighteenth the size of a real race car.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is even creating a sports league and championship cup, borne out of races its employees had with each other using the model car, AWS DeepRacer.

“It started getting pretty competitive,” Andy Jassy, chief executive of AWS, said at the company’s annual cloud conference in Las Vegas. “We had to remind people that we were actually trying to build this and launch this for customers. But it was actually kind of interesting, educational for us.”

He added of the forthcoming competition: “This is the world’s first global autonomous racing league open to everyone.”

The news represents another opportunity for the world’s No. 1 cloud computing company to lure people to try its machine learning services such as Amazon SageMaker, applying them to the car.

It also raises questions about Amazon’s interest in autonomous vehicles, an exploding area that has drawn heavy investments from automakers and technology companies alike, notably Amazon’s rival Alphabet Inc.

Simulations similar to the races Amazon is proposing are common in academic circles studying how traffic management would work in an era of self-driving cars. To be sure, autonomous vehicles rely on sensors, lidar and other components that are not the focus of AWS DeepRacer.

Amazon previously held what it called “Robocar Rallies” focused on behavioral cloning technology, which AWS DeepRacer events will now replace.

Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by David Gregorio

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