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Online learning platform Udacity today announced plans to launch Universe, a 3D simulator for the makers of autonomous vehicles, as well as the opening of its first-ever School of AI to supply educational courses necessary for people to find jobs that require artificial intelligence knowledge. For users in China, Udacity also launched a WeChat app builder nanodegree today in partnership with Tencent, its first offering for chat app developers.

The series of announcement were made today at Udacity Intersect, an annual conference organized by the online learning company being held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

The new and existing AI offerings together is Udacity’s attempt to make a comprehensive set of choices for those who wish to become AI practitioners. To make the School of AI, the company launched new courses for computer vision, natural language processing, and AI programming with Python. A reinforcement learning nanodegree will launch later this year. The new nanodegrees join a series of other AI-related courses like those for self-driving cars, deep learning, or autonomous flight.

To fuel its growth, Udacity VP Christian Plagemann told VentureBeat in an interview the School of AI will receive additional funding and staff resources. Making a School of AI sends a signal to the world and Udacity itself about the importance of AI, Plagemann said.


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“We basically create the learning path that leads you into different jobs and professions that have an AI focus so that we can basically span the full spectrum of education, starting from the very beginning, where you learn programming for AI, to the very advanced topics, like deep reinforcement learning. And that means we have a dedicated team staffed behind this,” he said.

With the exception of the reinforcement learning course which will be made available later this year at a date yet to be determined, each of the new AI courses launch for the first time this spring and last two to three months.

In 2014, Udacity began to partner with industry leaders to create nanodegree certifications designed to help teach people the skills necessary to enter transformative, growing fields in the tech industry.

Each nanodegree includes instruction in how to use significant developer platforms in their field. The computer vision nanodegree was created together with Affectiva, which last week introduced its emotion tracking for autonomous vehicle service, and Nvidia, whose expertise is also utilized in the robotics engineer nanodegree. The natural language processing nanodegree includes participation from Amazon’s Alexa.

Whether or not you’re convinced the School of AI is anything more than a series of nanodegree courses, Udacity has steadily built up its AI offerings over the years, starting in 2011 with a popular intro to artificial intelligence course. Overall, Udacity has seen more than 8,000 people graduate from its AI nanodegree programs.

Also announced today, Udacity will debut Universe, a 3D simulator that lives in the cloud and helps autonomous vehicle makers and city designers to play out various scenarios. The simulator is designed to train students in how to write code to accomplish tasks and collaborate, as well as how to manage, build, and analyze data from self-driving cars or autonomous flying vehicles.

“What’s really important for real-world applications is the system aspect, like how do you coordinate the hundreds of thousands of vehicles in a traffic network. And with Udacity Universe, we’re basically making the big investment to build an interactive, real-time, 3D-visualized environment where basically students can learn how to build these systems that work in a safe, reliable, efficient way,” Plagemann said.

The WeChat Mini-Program Development nanodegree will be sponsored with a 1 million RMB scholarship fund. WeChat was chosen as the first chat app developer offering because it has nearly one billion monthly active users, and because of Udacity’s desire to build relationships in China. Udacity first began to offer courses for Chinese users in 2016.

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