Udacity's self-driving car engineering degree lures over 11,000 hopefuls

Thu Sep 29, 2016 1:34pm EDT
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By Alexandria Sage and Paul Lienert

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Silicon Valley online education platform Udacity has already received more than 11,000 applicants for its so-called nanodegree in self-driving car engineering, Udacity president and Google X founder Sebastian Thrun said.

The high number of applicants - for 250 spots in the course - underscores the pressing need for talent by technology leaders such as Alphabet's Google and Apple, traditional car companies and automotive start-ups, as they race to develop production-ready autonomous-driving vehicles within the next decade.

High-profile, costly acquisitions driven by the desire to acquire talent, such as General Motors Co's purchase of automotive start-up Cruise, or Uber Technologies [UBER.UL] buying self-driving trucking start-up Otto, have marked the sector over the past year.

"Self-driving car engineers are extremely in demand," Thrun told Reuters in an interview. "The acquisition landscape is a very good way to measure the desperation. Desperation is the wrong word. But the same urgency and desire, particularly with our partners, companies like Mercedes — they really are looking for talent."

Udacity's nanodegree course, which costs $2,400 for three 12-week terms, begins in October. Its curriculum was developed with contributions from automaker Mercedes-Benz, chip maker Nvidia Corp and self-driving truck startup Otto, now part of Uber.

The average salary of a self-driving car engineer is $138,000, according to Paysa.com, which studies market salaries.

Udacity is hoping to reach and train international talent who cannot access a degree from prestigious U.S. universities with top-notch engineering and robotics departments such as M.I.T., Carnegie Mellon and Stanford.

General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra said Thursday at a conference in Detroit that after GM acquired self-driving car startup Cruise Automation, the company saw a 20 percent increase in the number of people applying to work at the company.   Continued...

Sebastian Thrun, co-founder and CEO of Udacity, speaks on stage during a session on the future of higher education at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013 in San Francisco, California September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam