Often, when we think of getting a computer to complete a task, we contemplate creating complex algorithms that take in the relevant inputs and produce the desired behaviour. For some tasks, like navigating a car down a road, the sheer multitude of input data and its relationship to the desired output is so complex that it becomes near-impossible to code a solution. In these cases, it can make more sense to create a neural network and train the computer to do the job, as one would a human. On a more basic level, [Gigante] did just that, teaching a neural network to play a basic driving game with a genetic algorithm.

The game consists of a basic top-down 2D driving game. The AI is given the distance to the edge of the track along five lines at different angles projected from the front of the vehicle. The AI also knows its speed and direction. Given these 7 numbers, it calculates the outputs for steering, braking and acceleration to drive the car.

To train the AI, [Gigante] started with 650 AIs, and picked the best performer, which just barely managed to navigate the first two corners. Marking this AI as the parent of the next generation, the AIs were iterated with random mutations. Each generation showed some improvement, with [Gigante] picking the best performers each time to parent the next generation. Within just four iterations, some of the cars are able to complete a full lap. With enough training, the cars are able to complete the course at great speed without hitting the walls at all.

It’s a great example of machine learning and the use of genetic algorithms to improve fitness over time. [Gigante] points out that there’s no need for a human in the loop either, if the software is coded to self-measure the fitness of each generation. We’ve seen similar techniques used to play Mario, too. Video after the break.