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Self-Driving Cars: Udacity Invites You to Help Create the Technology

If you look at the safety and driver-assistance technologies that will lead to self-driving cars and think, “Hey, I can make that better,” you might have the opportunity to do just that. The online university Udacity is currently building an autonomous car using code submitted by any legal resident of the United States who has a valid Social Security number and is age 18 or older. If that describes you, you’re eligible to participate.

What’s a Udacity?

With resumes sprinkled with credentials from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, Udacity’s leadership team has at its Sebastian Thrun, the company’s founder and president. A research professor at Stanford University, Thrun also was a lead on Google’s autonomous-car program and other Google X projects.

Offering a number of Nanodegree programs in high-tech fields, Udacity is a for-profit higher-education organization located in California’s Silicon Valley. It’s stated goal is to change the future of education by bridging the gap between real-world skills, relevant education and employment.

Self-Driving Cars and Udacity

In its quest to develop relevant course work that can translate into real-world, high-tech jobs, Udacity developed a Self-Driving Car Nanodegree. After successfully completing the 36-week course, students receive the title of Self-Driving Car Engineer.

While developing the course work and requirements for the Self-Driving Car Nanodegree, the Udacity faculty realized they needed to build an autonomous vehicle to validate the program. Following its come-one-come-all philosophy, Udacity chose to take an open-source code approach to the project. Think Linux for self-driving cars.

As its project vehicle, Udacity purchased a 2016 Lincoln MKZ and outfitted it with lidar (laser-like radar), radar, several cameras, a motion-tracking device, an engine-control unit and other tech devices.

Udacity’s Process

Rather than taking a free-for-all approach in which contributors submit code that is then evaluated and tweaked by other participants, Udacity is creating a series of very specific challenges to move the project forward. Organized like a contest, the most effective contributions to each challenge will receive cash and other prizes. Winning contributions will be evaluated for safety before being run in the car.

At this writing, the first challenge is completed. It was to design a mount for the cameras capable of sufficiently supporting the lens that would attach to a GoPro mount. It had to be delivered as a 3D model.

How to Participate

Udacity encourages anyone interested in contributing to register and join one of the participating teams. There are a few restrictions beyond age and residency that must be met, but those are the main requirements.

What it means to you: Innovation is what will eventually put self-driving cars on the road. By inviting anyone with a better idea to contribute, Udacity is expanding the idea pool.

Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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