Build Your Own Self-driving Car

If you’ve ever wanted your own self-driving car, this is your chance. [Sebastian Thrun], co-lecturer (along with the great [Peter Norvig]) of the Stanford AI class is opening up a new class that will teach everyone who enrolls how to program a self-driving car in seven weeks.

The robotic car class is being taught alongside a CS 101 “intro to programming” course. If you don’t know the difference between an interpreter and a compiler, this is the class for you. You’ll learn how to make a search engine from scratch in seven weeks. The “Building a Search Engine” class is taught by [Thrun] and [David Evans], a professor from the University of Virginia. The driverless car course is taught solely by [Thrun], who helped win the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge with his robot car.

In case you’re wondering if this is going to be another one-time deal like the online AI class, don’t worry. [Thrun] resigned as a tenured professor at Stanford to concentrate on teaching over the Internet. He’s still staying at Stanford as an associate professor but now he’s spending his time on his online university, Udacity. It looks like he might have his hands full with his new project; so far, classes on the theory of computation, operating systems, distributed systems, and computer security are all planned for 2012.

23 thoughts on “Build Your Own Self-driving Car

  1. Professor Sebastian did an inspiring talk at DLD last week, where he explained why he resigned from Stanford, the goals for Udacity (or Khan, Stanford, MIT) and what he believes will be the future of education.

    For those that did the AI class, you know well what’s coming up in the next 5-10 years..

    Worth watching [YouTube link]

  2. I like the thought of online classes, and I was really excited about the AI class… until I saw the website. Embedded videos (I know how to download them but geez), no lecture notes for download, and a quiz system that needs flash… what were they thinking? Were webpages with links and forms too old-school?

  3. The chicken or the egg sorta thing? What’s the use of learning to program a car that you don’t have, or don’t know how to build or modify? Why build the car if you can’t program it to operate? American motor heads would build or modify first, learn to program later, seeing that the car is still drivable without programming. Assuming they would want a self-driving car in the first place. Then again many drag racers run automatic transmissions. Automatic transmissions are programmable, so it’s not like they are totally adverse to automation, if helps them win.

  4. I think this is pretty freakin’ awesome.

    Like [polossatik] said, I don’t think it’s possible to not learn SOMETHING from this class, and it’s completely free.

    Even though I wouldn’t feel comfortable building a self-driving car, it would be pretty cool to know how it’s done. And, it would be neat to try out the concepts on a toy car (like one of those electric yard-rover ones).

    Although, part of me is wondering how long it will be before some enterprising hobbyist actually tries to build a self-driving car.

    1. Umm, did you miss the entire DARPA Grand Challenge? While a lot of them were of course funded research programs (like Thrun/Stanford and Red/CMU) there were a bunch of hobbyists as well. Granted, the first time around that mostly made for a good blooper reel, but that was 2004; in 2005 there were five finishers, three of which were entirely successful. The Urban Challenge (drive in traffic) a couple years later went even better, and included a UT-Austin *undergrad* team.

      Given that you can already buy mainstream cars that parallel park themselves, it’s only a question of how *soon* fully self-driving cars get to market. After all, it’s not like *humans* are any good at driving :-)

      One of the interesting things Thrun brought up in last term’s Free AI Class was that algorithms like particle filters are actually really cheap computationally; the Stanford car ran on a 4-core PC, including processing video and laser-scanner input.

      Final thought: if you’ve ever taken a class from someone who *really loved the material* and was enthusiastic and excited about it – and you wished more classes were like that – take the Self-Driving Car class :-) Or just go watch the ai-class videos again (they’re on youtube) – Norvig is an excellent lecturer, but Thrun really pours his soul into it.

  5. This is a perfect match for the 24 Hours of Lemons’ new “X Ceedingly Bad Idea Prize”, an award of one million nickels for the first autonomous race winner.

    Catch is, the entire car (minus the AV gear, safety equipment, and consumables) had to cost no more than $500, just like every other rusty deathtrap.

  6. It would be good if [Thurn] alongside improving the online education front, could also work on his ability to speak clearly. His AI class was one of the most painful things in my life to sit through.

    1. Geoist how can you be so egoist…
      I think you are loosing the point of a WWW education. He is German and I believe he doesn’t have any obligation to speak English keeping in mind that class is Free!

      If you “suffer” with the accent activate the subtitles that the people voluntary submit.

      I found AI very inspirational and if you really want to know which of you is better explaining. Upload your video explaining something that you have a passion about … and lets see how many people understand what you are talking about

      1. Let me draw you a venn diagram depicting A) people who have a passion, B) people who can teach, and C) teachers.

        It’s about placing effort in the right places, not flaunting weaknesses in order to break new ground. The amount of effort he’s putting into educating the world seems gratuitous considering the majority of the people who took his AI class were upset with the lack of quality.

        Recording and uploading videos are what teaching assistants are for. Pick one who can speak a language fluently as well as communicate ideas without being cryptic. Take the Kahn academy for instance. Clear and concise lectures that get the point across, and it’s free. It jacks me that these department heads want to sit in the spotlight and they aren’t even able to communicate clearly. After all, how is learning possible if there is communication breakdown.

  7. Is it ?possible? to control the features of the self parking Focus to achieve servo control of the car, and are the CANBUS or OBDII quick enough to accomplish the decision-reaction speed and bandwidth to accomplish auto-drive?

    1. I’m curious on that myself. It’d make for a really, really cheap self-driving vehicle. Only thing I know “out of the box” that works with drive-by-wire is the TORC ByWire XGV, a modified Ford Escape Hybrid that they throw some equipment into –

      I know some implementations of the “self-driving Prius” (especially Andrew Levandowski’s implementation before he had moved onto Google’s self-driving vehicle team) used a steering sensor in the steering wheel (give it 5V and it spins full right, 0V full left) and a sensor in the accelerator pedal (different voltage for different positions).

      If you watch a clip from Discovery’s “Prototype This!” episode involving self-driving pizza delivery you can see a Prius’s steering wheel shroud was removed – giving a clue that he’s tapped into the steering position sensor.

      Don’t know how braking was achieved – possibly an actuator – and no clue how the gears could change, unless it was done manually.

      1. Most vehicles these days have power steering, power brakes and fuel injection. All the mechanical bits and pieces have been there for years, it’s the image processing that took awhile, but with that pretty well baked there’s a whole new world opening up over the next few years.

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