Online Learning

Udacity Unveils Nanodegree Program for Self-Driving Car Engineers

Udacity offers a number of Nanodegree programs, and its latest offering teaches skills and techniques used by self-driving car teams at innovative automobile companies around the world.

The Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree, as it is called, was developed in partnership with the research arms of Mercedes-Benz, Nvidia, Otto and Didi. The companies helped devise a curriculum that covers key topics related to autonomous driving vehicles, such as deep learning, computer vision, sensor fusion, controllers, vehicle kinematics and automotive hardware. As a capstone project, program participants will run their code on an actual autonomous vehicle.

“Self-driving cars represent one of the most significant advances in modern history,” according to the Nanodegree program’s website. “Students who enroll in this program will master technologies that are going to shape the future. Through interactive projects in computer vision, robotic controls, localization, path planning and more, you’ll prepare yourself for a key role in this incredible field.”

The program consists of three terms at 12 weeks each, totalling nine months to complete. It will be led by Sebastian Thrun, founder and president of Udacity, alongside instructors David Silver and Ryan Keenan.

Disrupting Higher Education

Thrun announced the news last week at Disrupt SF, an annual industry event hosted by TechCrunch on startup technology, where he took the stage to discuss how Udacity disrupts and democratizes higher education. TechCrunch moderator Laura Kolodny inquired about Thrun’s past projects, including his time at Google leading the research of self-driving cars.

“I was working on GoogleX, on self-driving cars, and Google Glass and all of these wonderful technologies, but then I started realizing there is only a very small number of engineers who can do this kind of stuff,” said Thrun.

Thrun explained that when he started Udacity back in 2012, to obtain such skills and receive a good education “was almost impossible,” since it required students to enroll in prestigious, expensive institutions with limited space.

“I felt that if we could just build a new kind of university that could democratize education and really reach everybody, we could have a bigger impact on the world than just building a self-driving car,” Thrun said.

Udacity initially worked with universities and colleges to launch courses, but has since moved on to form partnerships with companies. “Universities don’t like to be disrupted,” Thrun noted, so Udacity reached out to industry and started working with bleeding edge companies like Google, Facebook and Salesforce to create technology courses that now reach millions of people worldwide.

“In Udacity, we wanted bleeding edge. We want to teach the kind of stuff that universities can’t even teach yet because it’s so incredibly new,” said Thrun. “As we all know, the self-driving car has been in the news quite a bit in the last year, so we decided to work with Mercedes, Didi, Ottoo, Nvidia and others to build a curriculum specifically for self-driving cars. We actually hope to open source all the software we find so that we can build an open source platform for self-driving cars for anybody to use.”

Applications for the Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree opened on Sept. 13 and will close Sept. 27. To apply, or learn more about the program, visit the Udacity site.

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at sravipati@1105media.com.

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