Tech columnist Jennifer Jolly takes a spin in a self-driving Ford Fusion and gets the scoop on how the technology works. Mercedes-Benz, whose engineers have been working on self-driving car technology, is eager to increase the size of its engineering team both in Silicon Valley and in Germany. SAN FRANCISCO -- So you say you want join the automotive revolution? Over the past few years, only elite roboticists have been positioned to heed the self-driving car's call to action. Armed with degrees from places such as Carnegie Mellon University and experience at institutions such as NASA, these tech whizzes have been highly sought after by technology and automotive companies looking to build the future.
When Sebastian Thrun started working on self-driving cars at Google in 2007, few people outside of the company took him seriously. "I can tell you very senior CEOs of major American car companies would shake my hand and turn away because I wasn't worth talking to," said Thrun, now the co-founder and CEO of online higher education startup Udacity, in an interview with Recode earlier this week. A little less than a decade later, dozens of self-driving startups have cropped up while automakers around the world clamor, wallet in hand, to secure their place in the fast-moving world of fully automated transportation. And these companies are hungry for talent and skill sets many don't have. "Uber has just bought a half-a-year-old company [Otto] with 70 employees for almost 700 million," Thrun said.
Sure, the autonomous era will wipe out a lot of jobs. Automakers, tech titans, and startups are racing to essentially put four million truckers, cabbies and other drivers out of work. But like all radical technological shifts, self-driving cars will provide opportunities, too--for those with the right skills. Working in the most compelling part of this field requires an understanding of deep learning, the branch of artificial intelligence that trains computers to do things like discern pedestrians from lamp posts. Universities can't crank out graduates fast enough.
Self-driving cars are already rolling along in Pittsburgh, thanks to Uber (albeit on a small scale with humans onboard, ready to intervene), and a Wired writer gave it a shot. A bevy of companies are working to put autonomous cars on the streets, but a new announcement by Udacity at TechCrunch Disrupt SF could and should send shockwaves into the nascent industry. Udacity is best known as a titan of online education, specializing in "nanodegrees" for people interested in working in the tech sector. For 2400 and a 9-month commitment, Udacity can turn prospective students into viable experts on self-driving vehicle technology, capable enough to work with the likes of Google, Uber, and other firms working on this next step forward. Of course, new students will need a background in programming, but the course will offer the chance to master deep learning, sensor fusion, vehicle kinematics, and more subjects to enable your new Tesla drive on its own accord.
The online education company Udacity is partnering with major companies in the field of autonomous vehicles to launch a nanodegree program for those interested in becoming a self-driving car engineer. "It is the first and only program of its kind where most people with an internet connection--from Detroit to Damascus and from Adelaide to Aleppo--can learn the skills they need to work in one of the most amazing fields of our time," Udacity founder and president Sebastian Thrun wrote in a blog post. The course, which spans three 12-week terms, covers deep learning, computer vision, sensor fusion, localization and controllers. Four major partners have committed to fast-tracking the nanodegree graduates into positions around the world: Mercedes-Benz, Nvidia, Otto (recently acquired by Uber) and Didi Chuxing. Thrun promised that more partners will be added to that list.