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    Can Sebastian Thrun create legions of engineers qualified to design autonomous vehicles?

    May 17, 2017

    Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree.

    Sebastian Thrun led the development of the Google self-driving car. Now he wants to teach you how to be a self-driving car engineer — in nine months.

    Thrun, whose day job is Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, also founded Udacity, the online tech educator (Thrun calls it the “new University of Silicon Valley”) famous for the concept of the “nanodegree,” a 6 – 12 month program, designed to teach programming skills needed for entry-level positions in industry.

    One of Udacity’s newest offerings is the Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree. Almost anyone with an intermediate-level knowledge of Python and C++ (plus basic college math and physics) can be potentially certified as a Self-Driving Car Engineer. It takes nine months and $800, working for 20 hours or so per week.  “Almost anyone,” because there were 11,000 applicants for 250 spots in the first such course.

    Udacity created the curriculum in collaboration with industry partners at the vanguard of autonomous vehicle development: Mercedes-Benz, Nvidia and Uber ATG. Course topics include: Deep Learning; controllers; computer vision; vehicle kinematics; sensor fusion and automotive hardware. Participants even get to run code on an actual autonomous vehicle.

    According to Udacity, “Program graduates will be uniquely prepared for a wide variety of roles in the autonomous vehicle industry. These include System Software Engineer, Deep Learning Engineer, Vehicle Software Engineer, Localization and Mapping Engineer, Autonomous Driving Engineer, Autopilot Engineer, Sensor Fusion Engineer, Visual Perception Engineer, Machine Learning Engineer, and Motion Planning Engineer.”

    The first class has yet to graduate, but early indications are promising. Already, Chrysler has indicated that it wants to hire 40 graduates, according to Thrun, and Bosch is “looking forward to tapping Udacity’s qualified candidate pipeline.”

    In discussions on Quora, participants in Udacity’s program, while generally expressing satisfaction with the course material, particularly lauded the challenging homework projects and the self-discipline that group learning imposes.  “This is different from simply going on the web and learning things because, in this latter case, there is neither motivation nor organization,” said one. Another said “It is about surrounding yourself with a learning intensive environment that also consists of these external sources, the highly responsive student body/mentors (on Slack, Facebook, Confluence etc.) and the projects required to complete the course. The projects can ideally be mentioned on resumes and during interviews for potential jobs in the future.”

    Emboldened by success, Udacity is now accepting applications for the self-driving car engineer course starting July 2017.