Udacity spins out self-driving taxi startup Voyage

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UPDATE: Sebastian Thrun answers student questions for 24 minutes in this video Self-Driving Car Nanodegree: Q&A with Sebastian Thrun. This video is probably the most informative insider perspective on the fast-moving autonomous vehicle space.

One example of how fast the field of AI is moving: Udacity’s “school for robo-cars has been so successful that it’s now spinning out of Udacity into its own company, Voyage.” Here’s a snippet from Business Insider:

(…snip…) The new spin-out will be lead by Oliver Cameron, a Udacity VP that was spearheading a lot of its self-driving car curriculum. The company broke the news to its employees Wednesday morning.

Udacity will have a stake in the newly-formed company as part of the deal, said the Udacity’s CMO Shernaz Daver. Voyage also recently closed a seed round of funding that included Khosla Ventures, Initialized Capital, and Charles River Ventures.

Voyage has been hot in Silicon Valley investor circles because of one big name linked to Udacity: Sebastian Thrun. Thrun, who founded the education startup, is also nicknamed the “Godfather of self-driving cars” for the work he did at Google and helped launch the self-driving car nanodegree program at Udacity.

Thrun, though, says he’ll have no connection with Voyage even though it’s spinning out of his company. “Because of personal conflicts, I have excused myself from any involvement in Voyage. I wish Oliver and his team all the best,” Thrun said in a statement to Business Insider.

The autonomous taxi startup wants to bring about the end goal where autonomous cars can carry people anywhere for a very low cost, Cameron said. It already has permission to deploy its self-driving cars to ferry passengers in a few places over the next few months, but Cameron declined to specify where.

“We want to deploy these not within five years, but very soon. We think in terms of weeks, not in terms of years or months,” he told Business Insider in an interview.

Pure guess: one reason Oliver Cameron decided to take this risk is because Udacity is open-sourcing it’s own self driving car project. All the code is there for all of us to use and improve. Including the new startup Voyage. And Oliver Cameron has a pretty good idea how successful the Udacity project is going to be.

Update: this week BMW has announced they plan to ship self driving cars in four years, in 2021. That’s similar to plans already announced by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes, Volvo and Chinese ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing.

2017 Udacity Intersect: the future is closer than you think

We meat-bodies generally over-estimate short-term progress (one to three years) and underestimate medium-term technology progress (ten to twenty years). My particular interest is AI. That is partly because five decades ago Artificial Intelligence was my academic field at Carnegie Mellon. The logic-based AI that I was investigating with Herb Simon and Allen Newell is now known as GOFAI (good old-fashioned AI, that’s the AI that didn’t work very well). What motivates my current interest is that Machine Learning (ML), is starting to be really useful, and the rate of progress in narrow AI applications of ML is accelerating. You can see for yourself the rate of progress in ML in the explosion of speech recognition gadgets like Amazon Alexa, the voice service that powers the home Echo device. Now any of us can access voice and image recognition. In perhaps five years we will begin benefiting from Self Driving Cars (SDC) if we live in the right places.

I think that open-source, low-cost initiatives like Google’s release of TensorFlow mark a major inflection point in the rate of ML progress. A teenager can now prototype her ML-based idea to see if it really works. She doesn’t need to go to Sand Hill Road to raise venture capital. In fact, the VC community isn’t going to pay any attention to you unless you have already built your project to a level where it can be tested.

Another powerful indicator of the inflection point thesis is Udacity’s Nanodegree offerings. Outstanding example: the Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree. For $800/term you can graduate with a qualification that dozens of leading companies are eager to hire. Here’s some of the hiring-partners of this SDC Engineer Nanodegree [they helped build the course]:

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How can you learn more? Well, I suggest having a look at videos from the March 8th 2017 Udacity Intersect conference. This was a remarkable event, opening the window so all of us can get visibility on what is happening. The Computer History Museum was vibrating with the energy of companies recruiting Udacity students and Nanodegree graduates. Pretty much every panel and keynote of the Agenda was packed with tech industry insiders exchanging views about their projects, priorities and especially the people they want to hire.

I’m highlighting Udacity Intersect 2017 because the conference offers a concise and fun way to get a look into the future and behind the curtain. What are the leading tech companies thinking and doing? Where are we likely to be in 10 to 20 years?

You can find links to videos of every segment of the conference at the main Intersect page. If you’re not sure this is for you, please check out the final session Fireside Chat: Astro Teller and Sebastian Thrun. These 33 minutes gives you access to two of the leading innovators who have convinced me that “the future is closer than you think”.

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Update: Udacity spins out self-driving taxi startup Voyage. Also, this week BMW has announced they plan to ship self driving cars in four years, in 2021. That’s similar to plans already announced by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes, Volvo and Didi.

Udacity & Georgia Tech MOOMS (M.S. Computer Science online)

Inside Higher Ed has a long article on this remarkable new venture – “based on interviews and documents, including some that the university provided to Inside Higher Ed following an open records request.” There are 22 pages of internal Georgia Tech docs referenced. Example: 

“It is an experiment that no other institution of our caliber has embarked on (yet!) but everyone is talking about moving in this direction, so if we want to do it, we should do it right away,” the report, produced in late February, said. “There is an opportunity to be a leader rather than a follower if we act quickly and thoughtfully.”

There is a glimpse of the financial projections as well:

The Georgia Tech program will have four enrollment tracks for students. Enrollment starts in January, though the first year will feature a small test run of several hundred paying students drawn mostly from the military and the corporate world, particularly AT&T.

Georgia Tech and Udacity expect the program to cost about $3.1 million in its first year. With a $2 million one-time sponsorship from AT&T and about $1.3 million in tuition and fees, Georgia Tech and Udacity
expect to split $240,060 in gains at the end of the first year.

In the second year, without AT&T’s large subsidy, Georgia Tech and Udacity plan to spend $7.5 million and scrape out gains of just $14,848 for the whole year.

By the third year, when the program is expected to be running at full steam, Georgia Tech and Udacity expect to spend $14.3 million on the program but bring in $19.1 million in revenue — for a total gain of about $4.7 million.

Georgia Tech will receive 60 percent of the revenue and Udacity the rest. The money to Georgia Tech will flow through its research corporation. Professors and the computing college both stand to gain from the effort. A professor will receive $20,000 for creating a course and $10,000 for delivering the content — meaning most professors will receive $30,000 per course. Professors will receive a royalty of $2,500 each time the course is offered again.

The posted Georgia Tech document is a wonderful source of insights into how the new degree program will actually operate.

Who’s afraid of a MOOC?: on being education-y and course-ish

Here's a very informative post by Greg Downey @GregDowney1 on the Neuroanthropology PLOS Blog. Did you know about all the MOOC developments in Australia? Such as the Open Universities Australia? Well I didn't, but am going to follow their work closely. Greg is one of the prime movers. A sample:

(…) My project was chosen to be the first cab off the rank at Macquarie after I pointed out at a panel discussion last semester during ‘Learning and Teaching Week’ that the technology made opening classrooms electronically inevitable. At the time, I argued that if the University didn’t promote open classroom efforts, the academic staff were going to start opening up our classrooms on our own. Either do it with us, or stand by as it happens without you. Anthropology (as well as a lot of other disciplines) wants to be free, or at the very least we are inexorably leaking onto the internet.

The leaking lecture hall

Web 2.0 opportunities are simply making it too easy and cheap to put teaching materials online. Our universities are often forcing us to tape lectures, generate electronic syllabi and provide access to our students already, so many of us are asking ourselves, why, after we put so much energy into lectures, slides, student readings, and the like for our classes, should we not share these much more widely. We have watched as lecture-like presentations – most notably, TED conference videos, but also iTunes U, Slideshare, and the like – have grown as a genre through podcasting and other avenues. There are copyright issues, and many of us are nervous about what will happen when as these materials become public, but enough of us are ready to dive into the deep end that the process is only likely to accelerate.

More…

 

Udacity announces a MOOC Pathway Towards US College Credit

This is exciting – starting with three courses at San Jose State (via Storify). Summary from Udacity Newsletter.

 To start off the New Year right, we just launched a pilot program that makes U.S. college credit possible with some MOOCs. As Sebastian Thrun announced in his blog post: “Udacity is thrilled to announce a partnership with San Jose State University to pilot three courses—Visualizing Intermediate AlgebraCollege Algebra, and Elementary Statistics—available online at an affordable tuition rate and for college credit. To my knowledge, this is the first time a MOOC has been offered for credit and purely online.” To see the play by play, check out our Storify page on this announcement.

 
These credits are accepted in the California State University system, and in the case of Statistics, in the University of California system as well. All three courses launch January 30th for the pilot period and are open for enrollment. Please note, as this is a pilot, in order to receive credit, you will have to enroll via San Jose State University first to be accepted into the pilot classes. Of course you can always take the classes for free (but not for college credit) by enrolling directly on Udacity.

Sam Romano tells Udacity about landing dream job at Google

Three minute peek into the future of education:

Following the first AI class, Udacity received hundreds of resumes from our students. We passed some of these resumes on to a number of companies. Recently, we heard from Sam Romano, who just landed a job at Google in Pittsburg, PA. During his job training in Palo Alto, CA, Sam took took the time to sit down with Udacity and tell us about how his experience in class helped him get the job he’s always wanted. Thanks Sam, and good luck at Google!

If you are interested in having your resume shared with Udacity’s growing list of employers, login to Udacity and fill out your profile page!