AWS DeepRacer concepts and terminology - AWS DeepRacer

AWS DeepRacer concepts and terminology

AWS DeepRacer builds on the following concepts and uses the following terminology.

AWS DeepRacer service

AWS DeepRacer is an AWS Machine Learning service for exploring reinforcement learning that is focused on autonomous racing. The AWS DeepRacer service supports the following features:

  1. Train a reinforcement learning model on the cloud.

  2. Evaluate a trained model in the AWS DeepRacer console.

  3. Submit a trained model to a virtual race and, if qualified, have its performance posted to the event's leaderboard.

  4. Clone a trained model to continue training for improved performances.

  5. Download the trained model artifacts for uploading to an AWS DeepRacer vehicle.

  6. Place the vehicle on a physical track for autonomous driving and evaluate the model for real-world performances.

  7. Remove unnecessary charges by deleting models that you don't need.

AWS DeepRacer

"AWS DeepRacer" can refer to three different vehicles:

  • The virtual race car can take the form of the original AWS DeepRacer device, the Evo device, or various digital rewards that can be earned by participating in AWS DeepRacer League Virtual Circuit races. You can also customize the virtual car by changing its color.

  • The original AWS DeepRacer device is a physical 1/18th-scale model car. It has a mounted camera and an on-board compute module. The compute module runs inference in order to drive itself along a track. The compute module and the vehicle chassis are powered by dedicated batteries known as the compute battery and the drive battery, respectively.

  • The AWS DeepRacer Evo device is the original device with an optional sensor kit. The kit includes an additional camera and LIDAR (light detection and ranging), which allow the car to detect objects behind and lateral to itself. The kit also includes a new shell.

Reinforcement learning

Reinforcement learning is a machine learning method that is focused on autonomous decision-making by an agent in order to achieve specified goals through interactions with an environment. In reinforcement learning, learning is achieved through trial and error and training does not require labeled input. Training relies on the reward hypothesis, which posits that all goals can be achieved by maximizing a future reward after action sequences. In reinforcement learning, designing the reward function is important. Better-crafted reward functions result in better decisions by the agent.

For autonomous racing, the agent is a vehicle. The environment includes traveling routes and traffic conditions. The goal is for the vehicle to reach its destination quickly without accidents. Rewards are scores used to encourage safe and speedy travel to the destination. The scores penalize dangerous and wasteful driving.

To encourage learning during training, the learning agent must be allowed to sometimes pursue actions that might not result in rewards. This is referred to as the exploration and exploitation trade-off. It helps reduce or remove the likelihood that the agent might be misguided into false destinations.

For a more formal definition, see reinforcement learning on Wikipedia.

Reinforcement learning model

A reinforcement learning model is an environment in which an agent acts that establishes three things: The states that the agent has, the actions that the agent can take, and the rewards that are received by taking action. The strategy with which the agent decides its action is referred to as a policy. The policy takes the environment state as input and outputs the action to take. In reinforcement learning, the policy is often represented by a deep neural network. We refer to this as the reinforcement learning model. Each training job generates one model. A model can be generated even if the training job is stopped early. A model is immutable, which means it cannot be modified and overwritten after it's created.

AWS DeepRacer simulator

The AWS DeepRacer simulator is a virtual environment for visualizing training and evaluating AWS DeepRacer models.

AWS DeepRacer vehicle

See AWS DeepRacer.

AWS DeepRacer car

This type of AWS DeepRacer vehicle is a 1/18th-scale model car.


A leaderboard is a ranked list of AWS DeepRacer vehicle performances in an AWS DeepRacer League racing event. The race can be a virtual event, carried out in the simulated environment, or a physical event, carried out in a real-world environment. The performance metric depends on the race type. It can be the fastest lap time, total time, or average lap time submitted by AWS DeepRacer users who have evaluated their trained models on a track identical or similar to the given track of the race.

If a vehicle completes three laps consecutively, then it qualifies to be ranked on a leaderboard. The average lap time for the first three consecutive laps is submitted to the leaderboard.

Machine learning frameworks

Machine learning frameworks are the software libraries used to build machine learning algorithms. Supported frameworks for AWS DeepRacer include Tensorflow.

Policy network

A policy network is a neural network that is trained. The policy network takes video images as input and predicts the next action for the agent. Depending on the algorithm, it may also evaluate the value of current state of the agent.

Optimization algorithm

An optimization algorithm is the algorithm used to train a model. For supervised training, the algorithm is optimized by minimizing a loss function with a particular strategy to update weights. For reinforcement learning, the algorithm is optimized by maximizing the expected future rewards with a particular reward function.

Neural network

A neural network (also known as an artificial neural network) is a collection of connected units or nodes that are used to build an information model based on biological systems. Each node is called an artificial neuron and mimics a biological neuron in that it receives an input (stimulus), becomes activated if the input signal is strong enough (activation), and produces an output predicated upon the input and activation. It’s widely used in machine learning because an artificial neural network can serve as a general-purpose approximation to any function. Teaching machines to learn becomes finding the optimal function approximation for the given input and output. In deep reinforcement learning, the neural network represents the policy and is often referred to as the policy network. Training the policy network amounts to iterating through steps that involve generating experiences based on the current policy, followed by optimizing the policy network with the newly generated experiences. The process continues until certain performance metrics meet required criteria.


Hyperparameters are algorithm-dependent variables that control the performance of neural network training. An example hyperparameter is the learning rate that controls how many new experiences are counted in learning at each step. A larger learning rate results in a faster training but may make the trained model lower quality. Hyperparameters are empirical and require systematic tuning for each training.

AWS DeepRacer track

A track is a path or course on which an AWS DeepRacer vehicle drives. The track can exist in either a simulated environment or a real-world, physical environment. You use a simulated environment for training an AWS DeepRacer model on a virtual track. The AWS DeepRacer console makes virtual tracks available. You use a real-world environment for running an AWS DeepRacer vehicle on a physical track. The AWS DeepRacer League provides physical tracks for event participants to compete. You must create your own physical track if you want to run your AWS DeepRacer vehicle in any other situation. To learn more about how to build your own track, see Build Your Physical Track.

Reward function

A reward function is an algorithm within a learning model that tells the agent whether the action performed resulted in:

  • A good outcome that should be reinforced.

  • A neutral outcome.

  • A bad outcome that should be discouraged.

The reward function is a key part of reinforcement learning. It determines the behavior that the agent learns by incentivizing specific actions over others. The user provides the reward function by using Python. This reward function is used by an optimizing algorithm to train the reinforcement learning model.

Experience episode

An experience episode is a period in which the agent collects experiences as training data from the environment by running from a given starting point to completing the track or going off the track. Different episodes can have different lengths. This is also referred to as an episode or experience-generating episode.

Experience iteration

Experience iteration (also known as experience-generating iteration) is a set of consecutive experiences between each policy iteration that performs updates of the policy network weights. At the end of each experience iteration, the collected episodes are added to an experience replay or buffer. The size can be set in one of the hyperparameters for training. The neural network is updated by using random samples of the experiences.

Policy iteration

Policy iteration (also known as policy-updating iteration) is any number of passes through the randomly sampled training data to update the policy neural network weights during gradient ascent. A single pass through the training data to update the weights is also known as an epoch.

Training job

A training job is a workload that trains a reinforcement learning model and creates trained model artifacts on which to run inference. Each training job has two sub-processes:

  1. Start the agent to follow the current policy. The agent explores the environment in a number of episodes and creates training data. This data generation is an iterative process itself.

  2. Apply the new training data to compute new policy gradients. Update the network weights and continue training. Repeat Step 1 until a stop condition is met.

Each training job produces a trained model and outputs the model artifacts to a specified data store.

Evaluation job

An evaluation job is a workload that tests the performance of a model. Performance is measured by given metrics after the training job is done. The standard AWS DeepRacer performance metric is the driving time that an agent takes to complete a lap on a track. Another metric is the percentage of the lap completed.

Racing event terminology

AWS DeepRacer racing events use the following concepts and terminology.


In the context of AWS DeepRacer League events, the terms league and competition relate to the competition structure. AWS sponsors the AWS DeepRacer League, which means we own it, design it, and run it. A competition has a start and end date.


A competition can repeat in subsequent years. We call these different seasons (for example, the 2019 season or 2020 season). Rules can change from season to season, but are typically consistent within a season. Terms and conditions for the AWS DeepRacer League can vary from season to season.

The Virtual Circuit

The Virtual Circuit refers to the races sponsored by AWS happening in the AWS DeepRacer console during the AWS DeepRacer League season.


As defined by the rules, an event is an AWS DeepRacer League occurrence in which you can participate in a race. An event has a start and end date. Virtual Circuit events typically last one month. There can be many events in a season, and some rules—such as how we rank those participating in an event, select who wins, and what happens thereafter—are subject to change.

Race type

All racers can race in time-trial (TT), object-avoidance (OA), or head-to-bot (H2B) races. Each race type will specify the number of laps and how racers are ranked.

National Season Standing

A national season standing refers to a racer's leaderboard ranking among other racers in their country. All racers can compete against other racers in their country in monthly virtual races.

Regional Season Standing

A regional season standing refers to a racer's leaderboard ranking among other racers in their region.

World Championship

The AWS DeepRacer League's Virtual Circuit monthly leaderboard is divided by nation and region. The top racer from each region will have the opportunity to qualify for the World Championships at AWS re:Invent. For more information, see the terms and conditions.