Longmont High, Innovation Center will host AI competition – Longmont Times-Call

Grayson Hubbell was on the initial team three years ago that developed a three-year plan for St. Vrain Valley to start an artificial intelligence and cybersecurity program at the district’s Innovation Center.

Now a senior at Longmont High and an Innovation Center student designer, Hubbell is organizing an event Saturday to introduce high school students to artificial intelligence technology and machine learning.

An artificial intelligence controlled 1/18 scale RC car rolls around a practice track at Longmont High School on Friday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The DeepRacer Invitational, co-hosted by Longmont High and the Innovation Center, is 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, engaging manner,” Hubbell said.

To prepare, students attended a boot camp two weeks ago to learn to embed artificial intelligence and reinforcement learning technologies into a 1/18th scale race car, an Amazon Web Service product called DeepRacer.

At Saturday’s event, 16 students working in pairs will “train” a car to run on a virtual race track circuit, creating an AI model. The model then will be loaded onto the DeepRacer car and raced on two physical race tracks.

The St. Vrain Future-Ready Innovation Lab, and booths from industry partners also will be at the event.

Hubbell said the goal is for this inaugural event to be the first of many. Longmont High will serve as the “garage” for 16 DeepRacer cars, modified with additional software that can be loaned to other schools to host their own events.

“The overarching goal is really AI education,” he said. “AI is this giant expanding industry. It’s a future that’s already starting to occur.”

He described the process of creating an AI model as similar to training a dog using treats as positive reinforcement.

“It’s not that dissimilar to traditional programming,” he said. “But it’s not you doing trial and error, it’s the car doing trial and error. Using your model, when it’s on the track, it’s learned to follow the center line and stay in between the white lines.”

Senior Grayson Hubbell talks about the DeepRacer program at Longmont High School on Friday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Longmont High computer science teacher Leroy VanderVegt has started incorporating artificial intelligence in his classes. He’s also adding an autonomous lab to the technology space and is teaching an AI class in the fall.

Incoming students, after taking technology classes at their middle schools, “are really starting to ask, what can we do with this knowledge?” he said.

He added there’s a demand in the job market for graduates who can work with AI technology. Plus, he said, learning about the technology through projects such as the race cars gives students “a real experience.”

“It’s something they can accomplish,” he said.

He encouraged students to participate in Saturday’s event, saying it’s an introduction to technology they could use for future projects.

Sophomore Eric Swanson said he was inspired to participate by VanderVegt’s idea for an autonomous 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 rise 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’s a program that slowly learns.”

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