MTSU Mondays: Data Science, Amazon partner to host machine learning competition – Yahoo News

Through friendly competition between with a model race car and a partnership with Amazon Web Services, Middle Tennessee State University is providing hands-on learning for students.

MTSU’s Data Science program fielded two teams of students in the Nov. 13 competition along with two teams from Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro and a team from Smyrna High School.

MTSU biology professor Ryan Otter, director of the Data Science Institute, inspects one of the model racers that would be competing in the Nov. 13 “AWS DeepRacer” event held in the MTSU Science Building Atrium. The event, which featured five teams racing autonomous racing models, was sponsored by the MTSU Data Science Institute and Amazon Web Services.

Amazon provided access to some of its top engineers and programming platforms as part of the competition, even flying in several of its staff to support the MTSU contest.

The goal was to see which team had developed the best computer training model to help their race car autonomously navigate a small track set up in the MTSU Science Building Atrium

“We’re testing this all together so we can get better,” said biology professor Ryan Otter, director of MTSU’s Data Science Institute.

The competition didn’t go exactly as planned. The model race car drove in fits and starts along the mock road course. An MTSU data science team member had to frequently pick it up and redirect it to stay on the roadway.

Although the experiment worked in the virtual world, it didn’t in real life. And it was a problem that perplexed all five teams who spent countless hours dabbling in the increasingly important field of machine learning.

“This is the real world, so it’s not always pretty and perfect. … This is just the start,” Otter said.

The program, DeepRacer, allows developers of all skill levels to receive hands-on experience with machine learning through a cloud-based 3D racing simulator. The fully autonomous 1/18 scale race car is driven through reinforcement learning.

Over the past two months, students have been teaching their cars how to drive..

“The ending wasn’t fun, but the working on it and seeing the model get better and better was fun,”said Kendra Givens, a sophomore computer science major from Murfreesboro.

Otter plans to host other events.

It’s a win-win for the corporate world, as well as students, said Amazon Web Services’ Joseph Hart.

“Being able to play a part in inspiring young minds around the world of data, analytics and data science, and what’s emerging in those fields and how it affects the business we’re in and really all businesses these days,” Hart said.

For more information about MTSU’s Data Science program, visit

Handel’s ‘Messiah’

MTSU School of Music students, their professor and a special guest will blend voices in concert with George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”

The performance by the MTSU Schola Cantorum and Middle Tennessee Choral Society is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Murfreesboro’s First United Methodist Church at 265 W. Thompson Lane.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12.50 for seniors and $10 for children 12 and younger and are available online at and at the door. MTSU students, faculty and staff will be admitted free with current IDs.</…….


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