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Udacity Wants to Train the Next Generation of Engineers

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【Summary】Udacity is offering an online course for self-driving car engineers led by an all-star team of instructors.

Original Aaron Phillips    Feb 01, 2017 12:00 PM PT
Udacity Wants to Train the Next Generation of Engineers

Udacity is an online learning center that's announced they're launching a new course aimed at engineers and software developers who want to work on autonomous vehicles

The 9-month comprehensive learning series is aimed at individuals with a strong background in computer science, and want to develop skills in subjects that apply directly to developing software for self-driving cars.

The company has partnered with major automotive companies, like Mercedes Benz and BMW, as well as software and hardware developers like NVidia and McLaren Applied Technologies. 

Udacity's Nanodegree Program

The program, which Udacity has dubbed a ‘nanodegree,' consists of a series of three 12-week terms. Udacity is asking $800 for each term, paid in advance. The course has 1,500 virtual seats available, and around 600 are already filled. Classes are slated to kick off in March of this year.

According to the syllabus, which Udacity has made available online, the curriculum is fast-moving and ambitious. But details have yet to emerge on what will be covered in the second and third terms, aside from a rough outline. 

Three instructors are teaching the course, and they bring some impressive qualifications to the table. Dr. Ryan Keenan, an astrophysicist and Fulbright scholar with a background in data analysis, helped to develop the online course. He is accompanied by former Google VP Sebastian Thrun, who led Google's early efforts into building a self-driving car, and David Silver, a Ford engineer with hands-on experience developing software for autonomous vehicle sensors.

The team, and especially Mr. Silver, have taken to the web in order to proselytize for self-driving cars. They have dozens of posts on the popular blogging site Medium, talking about their work and what they'd like to accomplish in the industry. They also share proof-of-concept writeups and other work from their students. 

Focused on Autonomous Vehicles

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Udacity as a whole seems focused on training engineers for self-driving cars. They're staffed with a surprising amount of talent, and are actively giving talks and hosting presentations related to autonomous vehicles.

In a recent presentation hosted by Udacity, speaker Padmasree Warrior, a former Cisco engineer who was included on Forbes list of the 100 Most Powerful Women, gave her perspective on the future of transportation.

She said, "Car 3.0 will be a robot that looks like a high-performance car. The future is not really about driving, it is about being, and that is the power of the Car 3.0. In the future cars will give us freedom with our time, they won't imprison us for hours at a time on roads."

While it's easy to dismiss lofty concepts like cars being "about being" instead of driving, it's harder to ignore when it comes from such an accomplished engineer. 

That appears to be the core of Udacity's model. They're offering high-concept futurology backed by industry leaders, and looking to educate the next generation of engineers. 

Students are increasingly turning to online education, especially for niche subjects like autonomous car engineering, but not every online program is created equal. In the past, there have been stories of high-profile scams, low standards, and unqualified teachers. 

Udacity, at least, looks like the real deal.

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