The Sensor Fusion Nanodegree program launched this week and we are thrilled to begin sharing this course with students. This program offers cutting-edge access to skills and projects that are integral to many industries, especially the autonomous vehicle industry.

We spoke with Grace Livingston––a graduate of our Flying Car Nanodegree and Intro to Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree program and founder of an autonomous vehicle startup in California––to learn more about this important technology.

1. First, how did you get started in this industry?

I’ve always had an interest in emerging technologies, especially transportation. My initial career after earning a college degree involved working with startups, venture capitalists, and artificial intelligence. While I had a basic background in computer science and programming, my job exposed me to much more advanced forms of programming. Although I never actually learned how to develop many of the technologies I was consulting on, I was very curious.

When I became pregnant with my daughter, Jackie, I had a realization that I wanted to make a career transition. I wanted to start my own company, create my own product, and own an idea from start to finish. I thought about all the technology I came into contact with over the past few years and I just couldn’t shake my intrigue for software development and engineering. I wanted to learn how to work with AI, deep learning, robotics, and all of the innovative technologies that I was exposed to in my job and that I was hearing about in the news. With that initial urge, I began looking for a problem to solve. I’ve  always been curious about transportation, especially the emergence of self-driving cars, since I don’t drive myself. I decided that this was the path I wanted to explore––blending my interest for learning more technical skills and solving transportation problems for myself and others.

2. How did you go about defining the problem your company would solve?

I had a general idea of what was needed; I was aware of the newest theories in deep reinforcement learning and its practical implications in self-driving cars. And, I had a deep curiosity for automation and robotics, especially in regards to testing and creating fun automation shortcuts in my own home.

I began with research. I spent hundreds of hours of researching where customers fit into the autonomous industry and what applications seemed to be the most relevant. Being home with my newborn daughter and not driving gave me my initial thought: If I can’t personally drive to an office in Silicon Valley, why don’t I bring that access to me some other way? My idea: create an autonomous-vehicle-centric smart city.

3. How did you go about creating this smart city?

My company, Intrepide, comprised of a few engineers and myself, began outlining the overall technology and developing our solution for a smart city.

4. How has the Flying Car and Intro to Self-Driving Car Nanodegree programs helped your career/startup?

I took a lot of Nanodegree programs with Udacity: Flying Car, Robotics, Self-driving Car, Intro to Self-Driving Car ND, Deep Learning Foundation, Artificial Intelligence ND, etc. I even got into Georgia Tech’s OMSCS after discovering it through taking Udacity courses.

Simply put, I would not be in this field had I not taken these Nanodegree programs. Nowhere else in the entire world can you get so much in-depth, hands-on learning experience, and an understanding of industry needs than through these very helpful classes.  I made many connections and received lots of external support from the entire Udacity community.

Udacity is so much more than just classrooms––they provide access to industry hiring teams, mentors, and vibrant online communities. These were all tremendously helpful in jumpstarting my entire career and getting me to where I am today. Many employers contacted me because of these Nanodegree programs and I met a lot of friends and colleagues.

5. How do you use sensor fusion in your role and at your company?

Sensor fusion is crucial for our company. We are the data management company for smart city projects with a specific interest in autonomous data flows, so data fusion is precisely what we do.

6. Why is this technology crucial to your role and do you consider it important for landing a job in your particular industry? If so, how?

Sensor fusion is crucial for all smart cities/IOT/autonomous vehicle and large robotics projects. There are a lot of sensor network data and parameters of various types coming into a connected network from different players. This requires us to make critical decisions immediately, but many of the data are not in the same format or sensibly connected to be usable. That is why we need to transform the data into usable uniformity, otherwise it won’t be useful since we cannot make sense of them on the top level.

7. Is your company growing and bringing your idea to life?

Yes! We have convinced the Stockton, CA mayor’s office and San Joaquin city’s top decision-makers to work with us. We showed them the potential of a smart city and the rewards of embracing autonomous vehicles. We are in the process of creating a pilot program to identify self-driving car industry pain points and actual customer needs.

Congratulations, Grace, on paving a new career path! Thank you for sharing your experience with self-driving cars and, especially, how you are working to solve transportation problems. To learn more about this language and obtain the skills that Grace mentioned, sign up for the Sensor Fusion Nanodegree Program.