Autonomous car dreams fuel education programme

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The one-year course in self-driving car technology is expected to address a shortage of engineers.

While autonomous driving has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons, online education start-up Udacity has launched a new "nanodegree" programme specifically tailoured for budding self-driving car engineers.

Autonomous cars market is expected to hit ₹2.82 lakh crore ($42 billion) in 2025, according to the Boston Consulting Group. This makes it one of the hottest areas of innovation today, with technology companies, automotive manufacturers, media giants, and start-ups around the world are rapidly pushing new advances in this space, whether it's hardware or software. And for that, they all need talent.

Udacity recently partnered with Mercedes-Benz, Nvidia, Otto and Didi Chuxing to conceptualise the Udacity Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree Program, which covers topics such as deep learning, computer vision, sensor fusion, localisation and controllers, the company said in a statement. Other companies are expected to follow.

"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 co-founder Sebastian Thrun said in a blog post.

For the one-year course, Udacity bought a Lincoln sedan equipped with the digital interface need in self-driving cars. If all goes according to plan, the sedan will be driving itself around California—from Mountain View to San Francisco—using the code developed by some 250 students enrolled in the program.

Udacity's course, which starts in October, costs ₹1.61 lakh and will span over three, 12-week terms. The program's goal is to create a faster path to employment "in a career than has an average salary of ₹92.54 lakh ($138,000)," Thrun told Reuters.

Thrun, who will be one of the instructors, helped pioneer the development of the self-driving car before co-founding Udacity. During his stint as a professor at Stanford, Thrun led the team that built Stanley, the autonomous car that won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. He was also a leader at Google X.

"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. To make this a reality we will need the best inventors, dreamers and mavericks to come into this field from wherever they might be in the world," Thrun said.

The launch of the nanodegree program coincides with U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement that he is considering seeking the power to review and approve self-driving car technology before the autonomous vehicles hit the road.

"If a self-driving car isn't safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won't hesitate to protect the American public's safety," President Barack Obama wrote in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed. "We have to get it right."

Obama wants automakers "to sign a 15-point safety checklist showing not just the government, but every interested American, how they’re doing it."

The guidelines include testing, back-up systems in the case of a self-driving computer failure, and recording and sharing data. Companies would also have to demonstrate how vehicles would comply with all traffic laws and fare in traffic crashes and how they would perform after a crash.

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