From Grand Challenge to Nanodegree Program

Udacity Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program

In 2004, DARPA held the first Grand Challenge for an autonomous car to drive 142 miles through the Mojave desert in under 10 hours. Fifteen cars participated, none finished. In 2005, the Challenge was repeated and 23 cars entered. Four finished under 10 hours and our car “Stanley” won in 6 hours and 53 minutes—11 minutes ahead of the next car. Then, in 2010, the Google self-driving car navigated 1,000 miles of public roads in California, an unbelievable advance from that first challenge.

Today, six years later, autonomous cars have become one of the hottest areas for innovation. The Boston Consulting Group estimates the market for autonomous cars will hit $42 billion in 2025. The World Health Organization reports there are 1.2 million traffic fatalities globally every year and driverless cars could be poised to save no less than 1 million lives per year.

Technology companies, automotive manufacturers, media giants, and start-ups around the world are rapidly pushing new advances in this space, whether it be hardware or software. And, they all need talent.

This is where Udacity comes in. Today, we are announcing that our Udacity Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program  is open for students to apply. 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.

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Udacity Turns 5, by Sebastian Thrun

I can’t believe it. It’s been an exhilarating five years. Today, Udacity turns five!

Udacity started with a phone call to Peter Norvig. I wondered if it made sense to take our Stanford class CS223 “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” online, and make it available to all people in this world. Peter was enthusiastic, and along with my co-founders David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky, we made it happen. This wasn’t the first MOOC, but it was the one that put Massive Open Online Courses on the map. In a few weeks, we gathered 160,000 students. Our course taught Artificial Intelligence to more people than all other AI professors combined at the time.

Fast forward to today. Udacity is now rapidly becoming the place to go for lifelong learning, where millions are learning the latest skills that Silicon Valley has to offer. Tech giants like AT&T, Google, Facebook, Amazon, GitHub, and MongoDB are using us to reach any willing learner in the world. And companies are eagerly hiring our graduates. We have educated more students than many four-year colleges. And recently, we started placing our graduates in jobs in the tech industry and beyond, based on their Nanodegree program credentials.

Our fifth anniversary is a great moment of reflection. To many, education is a numbers game. It’s about tuition, graduation rates, enrollment. To me, education is all about people. Every time I receive a thank-you note from a student, a letter on how we changed a person’s career, I am in tears. I have this very deep belief that if we open up high-quality education, if we truly democratize it, if we give every human being on this planet a fair chance, we will make a huge difference. Today, high-quality education is a privilege of the few. Our vision at Udacity is to make high-quality education a basic human right. If we do this, I truly believe we can double the world’s GDP.

I look back at the past five years and feel we did the impossible. We created a company that allows eager learners of all geographies and all ages to engage in meaningful education, and to live their lives’ dreams.  

First and foremost, Udacity is a story of our amazing students. Many have stayed with us through the years, assisted us in improving our offerings, and helped us spread the word. I really want to thank every single student who has been willing to trust us as a source of learning. Udacity would not exist without you, and you are the focus of our work.  And yes, every single student who discovers their dream career through Udacity makes me believe life is worth living.

It’s also the story of our partners like AT&T, Google, and so many others who are bravely standing with us to redefine education, with the singular vision of giving every human being in this world an equal chance. We are humbled by the level of dedication and friendship that has developed over the past five years.

Finally, Udacity is our team—a team that is united in the vision to make higher education accessible to everyone in the world. The amount of sweat and dedication of every single member of the Udacity family is beyond belief and I am grateful and inspired by you every single day.

Thank you students, thank you partners, and thank you Udacity!

Welcome to 2016!

Sebastian on Charlie Rose

It’s going to be an incredible year, and things are already off to a wonderful start. Did you happen to see our founder and CEO Sebastian Thrun on Charlie Rose December 29th? If you did, you’ll know they covered an extraordinary amount of topical ground (encryption, a cure for cancer, the Apple watch, deep learning), but much of their conversation touched specifically on exciting things to come for Udacity and our students in 2016, including new Nanodegree programs, a jobs guarantee initiative, global growth, and more.

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