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Online education company Udacity has formally launched a new nanodegree program today, one that’s aimed squarely at budding self-driving car engineers.
Founded in 2011, Udacity is one of a growing number of companies offering so-called massive open online courses (MOOCs) — courses open to an unlimited number of people on the web. It’s big business, which is why Udacity alone has managed to raise more than $160 million in VC funding, to date.
There are more than 11,000 people enrolled in Udacity’s nanodegree programs today, and in excess of four million people have enrolled in one of Udacity’s free courses. But Udacity’s credentials in the self-driving car education space are boosted by founder and president Sebastian Thrun’s track record, as he previously headed up Google’s “moonshot” program, Google X, which included Google Glass, Project Loon, and a bunch of initiatives related to machine-learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.). But it was also in this role that Thrun helped kickstart Google’s very own self-driving car program.
In an interview with VentureBeat back in July — to mark the company’s fifth year in business — Thrun mentioned that the company planned to target the burgeoning autonomous car realm. “We are working on a self-driving car nanodegree that will involve real cars; that’s one which could only be at Udacity,” he said at the time.
Until recently, we’d had no date for when this would launch. But speaking on stage at an event in San Francisco today, Thrun officially announced that applications for the new nanodegree are now open.
Consisting of three 12-week terms that cost $800 each ($2,400 in total), the nine-month course covers a range of topics, such as deep-learning, computer vision, sensor fusion, localization, and controllers. And, interestingly, Udacity has its very own self-driving car that students will be able to work on to test out their code — and it will be possible to do so remotely, which is crucial, given the nature of online studying.
Similar to other nanodegree programs, Udacity has partners on board to help run the course — companies that may stand to gain through hiring successful graduates. These are: Mercedes-Benz, which has been working on autonomous car technology for some time; Nvidia, which recently introduced a new chip and deep-learning platform for self-driving cars; Otto, a recent Uber acquisition that has been working on self-driving trucks; and Didi Chuxing, which recently merged with Uber in China, and which many speculate has self-driving taxis high on its agenda.
Udacity is pushing to serve what will clearly become a lucrative industry — one in which the automotive and technology industries will converge — with some estimates pegging the driverless car market at $42 billion by 2025. The self-driving car industry is already heating up, though, and just a few weeks back, NuTonomy put the world’s first public self-driving taxi on Singapore roads, which will be followed soon by Uber. Elsewhere, General Motors (GM) revealed its self-driving car aspirations with a $500 million investment in Lyft, which was followed by the $1 billion-plus acquisition of autonomous car startup Cruise Automation. And Chinese internet behemoth Baidu unveiled a new Silicon Valley division dedicated to self-driving cars.
“Technology companies, automotive manufacturers, media giants and startups around the world are rapidly pushing new advances in this space, whether it be hardware or software,” said Thrun, in a blog post. “And, they all need talent. If autonomous cars succeed, they will change the way we think about transportation, retail, insurance, and the way we, as consumers, go about our daily lives.”
Those looking to gain the skills to work in the fledgling industry can do so from today. Successful applicants should hear back on October 3, and the first class is expected to begin around mid-October.
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