Coursera and the University of Toronto roll out autonomous cars specialization

By , VentureBeat

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) students partial to machine learning, buckle up: The University of Toronto wants to inculcate you with driverless car engineering knowledge. Coursera, the online learning platform founded by Stanford professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, today announced that it’s teaming up with the U of T to offer a Self-Driving Cars specialization, which it claims is the first of its kind.

The timing is ripe for an autonomous cars curriculum, according to Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda, who noted that by some estimations, over 20 million self-driving cars will hit public roads by 2030.

“Autonomous vehicles are a well-established vision for the future of transportation. With new, exciting self-driving projects continuing to develop, from companies like Google to General Motors, the industry is expected to explode in the next decade,” Maggioncalda said.

The new course has enrollees experiment with datasets from autonomous cars and deploy them within a simulated 3D environment — one complete with cars, pedestrians, trees, and weather. Throughout, students get access to real-time data from cameras, lidar, GPS, and other sensors, and learn how to complete tasks like implementing object detection and visual perception models; autonomously coordinating motion, behavior, and maneuver planning; performing localization and mapping; and getting a handle on vehicle control.

By the end of the course, Maggioncalda says learners will use Python and open source frameworks to create a self-driving software suite.

“Today, the majority of the knowledge, data and intellectual property needed to train job seekers in the intricacies of this fast-paced industry are kept behind closed doors, deemed proprietary by each competing company and commercial interest. What’s more, across the industry, we’re seeing a growing concern for safety as self-driving cars start to enter the market,” Maggioncalda said. “Upon completing the [s]pecialization, learners will have a foundational overview of the full self-driving car software stack, enabling them to conduct graduate-level research within a robotics or autonomous driving lab or start a career in the autonomous driving industry.”

Despite what buzzy press releases might lead you to believe, artificial intelligence (AI) education is more than just a fad. Countries like China and France plan to invest billions in AI in the next decade, and with a shortage of AI job candidates projected, institutions stateside and abroad are doing all they can to place the next generation of data scientists in lucrative roles — for a price, in some cases.

In May, Carnegie Mellon University announced it will offer an undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence — the first of its kind in the U.S. And in October, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched a $1 billion initiative aimed at making artificial intelligence a core part of the college’s curriculum.

On the private sector side of the equation, there’s startups like, which offers free online data science courses for coders, and Coursera competitors like EdX and Udacity, which host a slew of AI and machine learning MOOCs. Meanwhile, Finland provides an online course — “Elements of AI” — in collaboration with the University of Helsinki and consulting firm Reaktor that it hopes will help to educate 1 percent of its population.