Robotics pioneer Sebastian Thrun is building an open-source autonomous car.


If Sebastian Thrun’s third self-driving-car project is as influential as his first two, we’ll be tearing up our driver’s licenses sooner than anyone expected.

As a robotics professor at Stanford, Thrun won the Pentagon’s 2005 contest for self-driving vehicles that fired the starting gun in the race to commercialize the technology. He then established and led Google’s car project, which has racked up more autonomous miles than any competitor.

The one he’s working on now comes from an unlikely place: his online education startup Udacity. And it has similarities to his past efforts—a Lincoln sporting Udacity logos, cameras, and spinning lasers can be seen driving around the Bay Area. But the software piloting this car will be given away free, in open-source form. Data collected by the car as it drives around is also being released for anyone to use.

Udacity modified this Lincoln sedan to drive itself.

Udacity started its car project to accompany a new course on autonomous-car engineering starting in January. Udacity engineers wrote the code needed to start testing the car. The company is now soliciting outside contributions by offering prizes for the best responses to a series of challenges, such as improving the car’s ability to interpret data from its cameras. (Some data from outside contributions is already inside Udacity’s vehicle.)

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