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Smart Transportation nanodegrees from Udacity

Smart Transportation nanodegrees from Udacity

It’s official. We now live in the future. Why? Because we have self-driving cars. We even have a few flying cars, that long-fantasised-about sci-fi staple. Pretty soon autonomous vehicles will be mainstream, and the industry will need armies of young boffins to design and engineer them. So it’s about time there were courses that introduced smart young people to the autonomous vehicle industry and prepared them for careers in it.

Silicon Valley-based education platform Udacity has just launched such a course as part of its ‘nanodegree’ offering. Nanodegrees are full-immersion learning experiences for those seeking careers in a variety of subjects, mostly in-demand skills like IT and engineering. Most take between 6 months and a year to complete. With a clear focus on one professional skillset each, they are a cheaper and quicker alternative to a traditional degree with a specialisation.

The Self-Driving Car Engineer course is currently the only program of its kind. It partners with automakers Mercedes-Benz and McLaren, taxi-hailing app wunderkind Uber and computer vision / data crunching giant nVidia to provide an up-to-date view of the field and hands-on experience with live projects. This nanodegree takes 9 months in the form of three 12-week terms.

The course covers Deep Learning, Computer Vision, Sensor Fusion, Controllers, Vehicle Kinematics and Automotive Hardware. Projects include Lane Line Detection, Traffic Sign Classification, Behavioural Cloning (architecting and training a deep neural network to drive a car in a simulator based on a student’s own driving behaviour on a test track), Advanced Lane Detection, Vehicle Tracking and Pedestrian Tracking. The main programming language for all this is C++.

Udacity also caters for those who want to move into the third dimension with flying cars. Featuring Nicholas Roy, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, the Flying Car Nanodegree Program teaches the skillset required to get autonomous vehicles airborne, including motion planning, state estimation, control, and perception. It goes much further, though, with awareness of how autonomous flight technology can contribute to social good, for example the use of autonomous drones in disaster relief and in the fight against illegal poaching.

Roy says in a blog post that ‘Flying Car’ is a ‘metaphor’ for what the course offers: a new vision for the future of smart transportation by involving the whole arena of autonomous flight. The nanodegree opens in early 2018.

January 2018 update: This recent article by John Hawthorne at give a rundown of current flying car models and glimpses of some future projects. 

September 2019 update: This post by Anna Kucirkova offers another rundown of where flying car technology is at.