Starting today, online teaching startup Udacity is opening registration for a new “Intro to Self-Driving Cars” course to anyone in the world with an internet connection. The four-month “nanodegree” class is $800 to enroll, but ride-hailing service Lyft is teaming up with Udacity to offer 400 scholarships specifically targeted at students from communities underrepresented in the tech world.
The only prerequisites for students interested in the intro class are some programming experience (e.g. C++, Python) and algebra. Graduates will be eligible to automatically enroll in Udacity's year-old Self-Driving Car or Robotics Nanodegree programs, which is more focused on providing students with the skills necessary to land a job in the fast-growing autonomous vehicle market.
The rush to develop self-driving cars is fueling lucrative deals for tech startups specializing in AI, robotics, and vision hardware, but its also creating a strain on applied science schools to produce the talent needed to design and build these vehicles. And with salaries ranging from $200,000 to $400,000 for engineering positions, the number of students seeking to specialize in self-driving cars is predicted to grow exponentially.
Udacity, which first launched in 2011 and offers micro-credentials certification courses designed to make applicants job-ready, believes it is uniquely positioned to fill that need. Sebastian Thrun, the founder and president, was the first leader of Google’s Self-Driving Car project, a job he took after managing Stanford’s winning team in the Defense Department’s DARPA competitions, the legendary 2005 Grand Challenge and 2007 Urban Challenge that gave rise to many of the autonomous vehicles we see in operation today.
“There is an enormous market for engineers of self-driving cars,” Thrun says in a video marketing Udacity’s nanodegree program. “Lots and lots of companies that you wouldn’t suspect have entered that field and are massively hiring.”
Since kicking off its Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program one year ago, more more than 43,000 people have applied and over 10,000 students have enrolled from 50 countries, Udacity says. Nearly 60 of the nanodegree program’s students have already landed new jobs — before graduating later this year.
Lyft’s interest in funding scholarships for the new intro course isn’t entirely selfless. The ride-hailing company recently announced its plan to begin building its own software and hardware to power self-driving cars. To accomplish this, Lyft says it will open a new 50,000-square-foot engineering facility in Palo Alto, California, which it’s calling the “Level 5” center in reference to the most advanced level of autonomous driving. The goal is to have “hundreds” of engineers working out of the facility by the end of 2018, Lyft says. Perhaps some of those engineers will be Udacity graduates.