A Startup is Training a Self-Driving Truck AI Using Video Games

Monday, 25 September 2017 - 8:45PM
Technology
Artificial Intelligence
Monday, 25 September 2017 - 8:45PM
A Startup is Training a Self-Driving Truck AI Using Video Games
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The problem with testing a self-driving artificial intelligence is that things can be very, very messy if things go wrong.

As with human drivers, AIs need to be capable of proving their automotive skills in a safe controlled environment before they can be allowed to hit the open road all by themselves. The problem comes in finding a way to train and test self-driving AI so that they have a full range of experience in a realistic environment, without putting lives in danger.

The solution? Let AI play a video game. Big name companies around the world are eagerly working towards a future where haulage trucks can be driven autonomously, and a startup in South Korea called Mars Auto aims to produce an advanced AI which could enable trucks to drive themselves. And they've chosen Euro Truck Simulator 2 as their training grounds. 

Euro Truck Simulator 2 isn't exactly Gran Turismo. It's a driving game, but instead of focusing on racing fast and beating opponents (whether virtual or human), Euro Truck Simulator 2 is an accurate representation of very mundane truck-driving. Lots of open road, plenty of quiet, empty driving, and no competition whatsoever.

Simulator games of this nature may sound dull to some gamers, but there's a genuine audience for a laid-back, relaxing game that allows players to simply experience real life as a trucker. Euro Truck Simulator 2 also functions as the perfect training ground for self-driving AIs.



In order to fully train and test their AI, Mars Auto turned to gaming, initially using The Open Racing Simulator as a way to keep track of their progress by getting their AI to play the game.

This proved less than ideal, because The Open Racing Simulator encourages a very aggressive, overly fast style of driving (it is a racing game after all), so eventually the company settled on Euro Truck Simulator 2 instead; a game that far better reflects actual driving practices.

The data gained from Euro Truck Simulator 2, as well as the hours of practice that the AI got at dealing with hazards on the road, meant that the company was able to make leaps and bounds in advancing its self-driving algorithms. That said, there was only so much use that the AI could get from the game - self-driving technology relies on a series of different inputs, such as movement sensors, which aren't compatible with a game that's designed for humans, and eventually research moved on to different types of testing simulations.

AIs are definitely getting better at gaming in general - Elon Musk's OpenAI has managed to beat several top-ranking eSports players at their best game, showing their ability to outperform humans in some spacial awareness tests. As time goes on, we're likely to see more AIs that are capable of playing games to a greater degree of success.

Perhaps it's better, though, to keep AIs focused on driving simulators rather than anything aggressive or violent - especially anything, say, from the Mass Effect series that involves humans fighting an ongoing war with robots. If ever AIs develop a sense of self-awareness, they may likely consider a lot of our games to be in very poor taste.

In the meantime, though, there are some driving games that we should probably keep AIs away from for their own safety. No computer is going to learn anything useful from Mario Kart, for example, besides how to throw banana peels into oncoming traffic.
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