IA: Accenture has its unmanned sailboat compete in the virtual Vendée Globe

by bold-lichterman

When it comes to ocean racing, can an algorithm beat an old sea bass? A team of developers from the technology consulting firm Accenture imagined RoBoat, an artificial intelligence that skips a monohull sailboat on its own for a virtual world tour. The experience takes place within the Virtual Regatta game, in which the 900,000 or so registered try to compete with the real sailors of the 9th edition of the Vendée Globe.

Cloud specialist Gekko, acquired in June by Accenture, was initially tasked with helping the Virtual Regatta team migrate to Amazon’s infrastructure, in anticipation of the expected high traffic in confinement time. But a small team decides to take the exercise a step further and learn the basics of navigation on a computer.

We started with the calculation of isochrones (which predict a position as a function of a defined time) “, explains to AFP the director of the Accenture innovation center in France Thomas Malnoury. “Then we moved on to defining a global strategy in relation to the weather, and finally a trajectory according to the local conditions around the boat”. Above all, the team collects the navigation data of the 50 best players in Virtual Regatta, and trains an algorithm to imitate their decisions.

A new kind of racing

Ready just in time for departure, RoBoat lost 400,000 places on the first day, due to a bad set-up which forced it to tack into the wind. After an urgent corrective action, it finally found its “cruising speed”, relates the online logbook. The strategy of the robot, now ranked 331,000th, still leaves room for doubt: it persists in coasting along the African coasts, rather than seeking, like the majority of participants, downwind speeds on the other side of the Atlantic. “The goal is already to finish the race, and if possible in the first half of the table”, says Thomas Malnoury.

Due to lack of time, the team could not try “Reinforcement learning”, that is to say, simulate a very large number of races to help the machine identify the best strategies, says Adrien Jacquot, data analyst. For the creators of RoBoat, the ambition is elsewhere: they are already imagining a new type of race with several robots, to find the best algorithms, but have also come into contact with companies interested in this technology to sail very real sailboats. .