blog post

Build a Self-Driving RC Car using Raspberry Pi and Machine Learning using Google Colab

Sachin Kumar
April 8, 2023

Build a Self-Driving RC Car using Raspberry Pi and Machine Learning using Google Colab

In this tutorial, we will learn how to build a Self-Driving RC Car using Raspberry Pi and Machine Learning using Google Colab. Ever since the thought and discussion and hype about self-driving cars came into existence, I always wanted to build one on my own. This tutorial is a very baby step towards that reality and will also provide you with some in-depth analysis and knowledge into the basics of self-driving cars. This tutorial will also cover how to train your model using Google Colab

Self driving RC Car using Raspberry Pi and Machine Learning using Google Colab
  1. Introduction to Donkey Car
  2. Requirements and Parts Needed
  3. Assemble the Hardware
  4. Software Installation
  5. Calibrate your Car
  6. Take it for a spin
  7. Introduction to Google Colab
  8. Train an autopilot using Colab
  9. Experiment and have fun
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

1. Introduction to Donkey Car

Firstly, after a few research, I came across Donkey Car. Donkey is a high-level self-driving library written in Python. Also, it was developed with a focus on enabling fast experimentation and easy contribution. Hence, this was essential for me to quickly get started.

2. Requirements and Parts Needed

2.1 Buying the parts and components

We have 2 options for building our Donkey Car.

Option 1: Buying through an official Donkey Store

There are 2 official stores to buy your Donkey Care Starter Kit.

  • If you are in the US, you can buy from Donkey Store.
  • If you are in the Asia region and others, you can buy from the Robocar Store.

Option 2: Bottoms Up Build

If you want to buy the parts yourself, want to customize your donkey or live out to of the US, you may want to choose the bottoms up build. Furthermore, instructions regarding the same are mentioned in the documentation.

2.2 Major Components and Parts

  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • MicroSD card
  • RC Car
  • USB Battery with micro-USB cable
  • Donkey Partial Kit

3. Assemble the hardware

The starter kit includes everything you need to get started. It includes:

Build a Self-Driving RC Car using Raspberry Pi and Machine Learning using Google Colab
  • HSP 94186 Brushed RC Car
    An RC car fully tested with the Donkey Car platform
  • 3D Printed Top Cage (in White or other color)
  • Laser-cut Base Plate (in White or transparent)
  • Raspberry Pi 3B or 3B+ (Depends on availability)
    The brain of the self-driving RC car
  • Wide Angle Raspberry Pi Camera
    The eye of the self-driving RC car
  • 16GB Micro SD Card
    Storage for the Donkey Car platform and enough to hold training data for autonomous driving
  • Servo Driver PCA 9685
    Controls the throttle and steering of the RC car
  • DC-DC 5V/2A Voltage Converter
    Provides power from the RC car battery to the Raspberry Pi
  • All other accessories
    Wires and screws to build the Donkey Car

In addition, refer to the Donkey Car Assembly video below to follow detailed instructions to assemble all the parts and build your car.

4. Software Installation

The installation of the software and setup consists of the following 2 simple steps. In addition, we will be creating our Donkey car application.

Step 1: Install Software on Host PC

When controlling your Donkey via behavioral cloning, you will need to setup a host pc to train your machine learning model from the data collected on the robot. Choose a setup that matches your computer OS. In my case, it was a Mac.

Installation for Mac

mkdir projects
cd projects
  • Get the latest donkeycar from Github.

git clone
cd donkey
  • If this is not your first install, update Conda and remove old donkey

conda update -n base -c defaults conda
conda env remove -n donkey
  • Create the Python anaconda environment

conda env create -f envs/mac.yml
source activate donkeypip install -e .
  • Install Tensorflow

pip install tensorflow
  • Install donkey source and create your local working dir:

pip install -e .[pc]
donkey createcar --path ~/d2

Step 2: Setup Raspberry Pi

To begin, we need to flash the micro SD card with an operating system.

  • Download Raspian Lite (300MB)
  • Download Etcher tool to write an image to the SD Card.
  • Connect as SD Card reader with the SD card inside it.
  • Open Etcher and select from your hard drive the Raspberry Pi .img or .zip file you wish to write to the SD card.
  • Select the SD card you wish to write your image to.
  • Review your selection and Click "Flash" to begin writing data to SD Card.

Step 3: Setup the Raspberry Pi's WiFi for first boot.

Open a text editor or notepad and copy paste the following code into it.

ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev


Replace <your network name> with the ID of your network. Leave the quotes. Replace <your password> with your password, leaving it surrounded by quotes. If it bothers you to leave your password unencrypted, you may change the contents later once you've gotten the pi to boot and log-in.

Save this file to the root of boot partition with the filename wpa_supplicant.conf. On first boot, this file will be moved to /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf where it may be edited later. If you are using Notepad on Windows, make sure it doesn't have a .txt at the end.

Build a Self-Driving RC Car using Raspberry Pi and Machine Learning using Google Colab

Step 4: Raspberry Pi's Hostname

If yours is the only Pi in the network, you can find it with the following command.

ping d2.local

Step 5: Enable SSH on boot

Put a file named ssh in the root of your boot partition.

Now you're SD card is ready. Eject it from your computer, put it in the Pi and plug in the Pi.

Step 6: Connecting to the Pi

Plug in your raspberry pi device to a monitor using HDMI cable and also connect a keyboard to the raspberry pi.
Once the initial boot is done, you will be prompted to enter the login credentials.

  • Username: pi
  • Password: raspberry

Then try the command below. This would show you the IP address of the raspberry pi.

ifconfig wlan0

Once we know the IP address and since we enabled SSH, we can directly remotely connect to the raspberry pi using our mac or computer. Open the Terminal and type in one of the following command options to connect.

#option 1
ssh pi@d2.local

#option 2
ssh pi@ 
#replace  with the one found in the previous step

Step 7: Update and upgrade

Type in the following commands in the raspberry pi via ssh to update and upgrade the pi.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

Step 8: Configure the Raspberry Pi

sudo raspi-config
  • enable I2c
  • enable camera
  • expand filesystem
  • change hostname
  • change default password for pi

Make sure to reboot after making the configuration changes.

Step 9: Install dependencies

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install build-essential python3 python3-dev python3-virtualenv python3-numpy python3-picamera python3-rpi.gpio i2c-tools avahi-utils joystick libopenjp2-7-dev libtiff5-dev gfortran libatlas-base-dev libopenblas-dev libhdf5-serial-dev git

Step 10: Install optional OpenCV dependencies

sudo apt-get install libilmbase-dev libopenexr-dev libgstreamer1.0-dev libjasper-dev libwebp-dev libatlas-base-dev libavcodec-dev libavformat-dev libswscale-dev libqtgui4 libqt4-test

Step 11: Setup virtual env

python3 -m virtualenv -p python3 env
echo "source env/bin/activate" >> ~/.bashrc
source ~/.bashrc

Step 12: Install Tensorflow

You can check this page to find the one you like. Or install this one:

Step 13: Install Donkeycar Python code and install

This will pull the latest from Tawn's fork:

git clone
pip install -e donkey[pi]

Step 14: Create your car application.

donkey createcar --path ~/d2

6. Take it for a spin

Start your car and its time to take it for a spin. if you are planning on using your mobile phone to control your car, you can configure it under the file.

cd ~/d2
sudo nano

change the following line at the bottom of the script.


Start your car and drive.

Open your car's folder and start your car.

cd ~/d2
python drive

This script will start the drive loop in your car which includes a part that is a web server for you to control your car. You can now control your car from a web browser at the URL: <your car's IP's address>:8887

You can load the URL on a mobile browser and control your vehicle remotely or alternatively use the desktop browser to control the device.  The car will start recording automatically when you use it to move forward and it will capture the necessary sequence of images and JSON files by creating a tub folder inside the Raspberry Pi's project data folder.

Driving with Web Controller


  • Recording - Press record data to start recording images, steering angels and throttle values.
  • Throttle mode - Option to set the throttle as constant. This is used in races if you have a pilot that will steer but doesn't control the throttle.
  • Pilot mode - Choose this if the pilot should control the angle and/or throttle.
  • Max throttle - Select the maximum throttle.

7. Introduction to Google Colab

Now that we are able to drive our car successfully, we need to start training our model so that we can have a self-driving car. In the quest towards the same, I started training it on my Mac and it took hours and I completely gave up on it. Then as an alternate, used my Gaming Rig at home with pretty high specs and it took around 25-30 mins to train the model.  This was no good if we wanted to quickly train more models, so in my research wanted to use the Cloud to get the job done quickly but you need to pay for it. Finally came across Google Colab, which requires no setup and runs in the cloud and is completely free.

Colaboratory is a free Jupyter notebook environment that requires no setup and runs entirely in the cloud.

With Colaboratory you can write and execute code, save and share your analyses, and access powerful computing resources, all for free from your browser.

8. Train an autopilot using Colab

Using Google Colab's accelerated hardware, I was able to train our model multiple times within a couple of minutes or less.

Follow the instructions as shown in the Github repository.

Copy the generated mypilot.h5 file to your Raspberry Pi under the following location. /home/pi/d2/models/mypilot.h5

Execute the following command in your Raspberry Pi.

cd ~/d2
python drive --model ~/d2/models/mypilot

Build a Self-Driving RC Car using Raspberry Pi and Machine Learning using Google Colab

9. Experiment and have fun

Training Tips:

  1. Mode & Pilot: Congratulations on getting it this far. The first thing to note after running the command above is to look at the options in the Mode & Pilot menu. It can be pretty confusing. So here's what the different options mean:
  2. User: As you guessed, this is where you are in control of both the steering and throttle control.
  3. Local Angle: Not too obvious, but this is where the trained model (mypilot from above) controls the steering. The Local refers to the trained model which is locally hosted on the raspberry-pi.
  4. Local Pilot: This is where the trained model (mypilot) assumes control of both the steering and the throttle. As of now, it's purportedly not very reliable. Be sure to also check out the Max Throttle and Throttle Mode options, and play around with a few settings. Can help with training quite a lot.
  5. Build a Simple Track: This isn't very well-documented, but the car should (theoretically) be able to train against any kind of track. To start off with, it might not be necessary to build a two-lane track with a striped center-lane. Try with a single lane with no center-line, or just a single strip that makes a circuit! At the least, you'll be able to do end-to-end testing and verify that the software pipeline is all properly functional. Of course, as the next step, you'll want to create a more standard track, and compete at a meetup nearest to you!
  6. Get help: Try to get some helping hands from a friend or two. Again, this helps immensely with building the track, because it is harder than it looks to build a two-line track on your own! Also, you can save on resources (and tapes) by using a ribbon instead of tapes. They'll still need a bit of tape to hold them, but you can reuse them and they can be laid down with a lot less effort (Although the wind, if you're working outside, might make it difficult to lay them down initially).

10. Conclusion

To conclude, we have successfully built a self-driving car using Raspberry Pi and Machine Learning models using Tensorflow and Google Colab. We can train more models using the same method and train faster using Google Colab for free.

11. References

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