Grayson Hubbell was part of the initial team three years ago that developed a three-year plan for the St. Vrain Valley to launch an artificial intelligence and cybersecurity program at the district’s innovation center.
Now a senior at Longmont High and a design student at the Innovation Center, Hubbell is hosting an event on Saturday to introduce high school students to artificial intelligence technology and machine learning.
The DeepRacer Invitational, co-hosted by Longmont High and the Innovation Center, runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Longmont High, 1040 Sunset St.
“We want to show students this AI process in a fun, competitive, and engaging way,” Hubbell said.
To prepare, the students attended a boot camp two weeks ago to learn how to integrate artificial intelligence and reinforcement learning technologies into a 1/18th scale racing car, a product Amazon Web Service called DeepRacer.
At Saturday’s event, 16 students working in pairs will “train” a car to race on a virtual racetrack circuit, creating an AI model. The model will then be loaded onto the DeepRacer car and raced on two physical race tracks.
The St. Vrain Future-Ready Innovation Lab and industry partner booths will also be present at the event.
Hubbell said the goal was for this inaugural event to be the first in a long series. Longmont High will serve as a “garage” for 16 DeepRacer cars, modified with additional software that can be loaned to other schools to run their own events.
“The overarching goal is really AI education,” he said. “AI is this giant growing industry. It’s a future that is already starting to happen.
He described the process of creating an AI model as similar to training a dog using treats as positive reinforcement.
“It’s not that different from traditional programming,” he said. “But it’s not you doing the trial and error, it’s the car doing the trial and error. Using your model, when it’s on the track, it learns to follow the center line and to stay between the white lines.
Longmont High computer science teacher Leroy VanderVegt has begun integrating artificial intelligence into his classes. He’s also adding a stand-alone lab to the tech space and teaching an AI class in the fall.
Incoming students, after taking technology courses at their colleges, “are really starting to ask themselves, what can we do with this knowledge?” he said.
He added that there is a demand in the job market for graduates who can work with AI technology. Plus, he said, learning about technology through projects like race cars gives students “real experience.”
“It’s something they can accomplish,” he said.
He encouraged students to attend Saturday’s event, saying it was an introduction to the technology they could use for future projects.
Sophomore Eric Swanson said he was inspired to participate in VanderVegt’s idea for a self-driving golf cart as a senior project. A simple race car, he said, is a good way to learn the technology before tackling more complex projects.
Plus, he joked, “when they get up, you want to be the guy who knows what they’re doing.”
Sophomore Sophia Ormsby said she likes the problem-solving side of computer science and wants to learn more about AI.
“It’s interesting because what we perceive as AI in movies is not how it works,” she said. “It’s not like a brain. It is a program that learns slowly.