Onstage at Baidu’s CES 2018 press conference today, Baidu COO Qi Liu was joined by Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun to announce a new collaboration between the two companies. Thrun revealed that Baidu and Udacity will collaborate in a number of areas, including, “for the first time, building courses together with both a Chinese and an American company” for the online education platform.
Thrun noted that the number of people with the requisite AI expertise to build self-driving cars is still “vanishingly small,” with as few as 10,000 people the whole world over qualified to do this kind of engineering work. He also pointed out that of Udacity’s 9 million total enrollments across its programs thus far, one-fifth of those are coming from China already, and many of the graduates of its self-driving car programs are ending up with jobs at Udacity, too.
The partnership between Baidu and Udacity includes Udacity making contributions to Apollo, Baidu’s open platform for autonomous driving, as well as the establishment of a joint skills competition created by both companies.
Udacity will also help Apollo with talent identification and acquisition, and Udacity will offer an “Introduction to Apollo” program, with full support for Apollo’s software and simulation environment for hands-on learning opportunities. This intro program will be offered to students completely free of charge, Thrun said.
Udacity has partnered with a number of automakers and autonomous technology companies on its intro to self-driving and self-driving nanodegree programs, but this provides Baidu with a way to help evangelize and popularize its program, as well as get potential future engineers versed in its software, all of which helps with its goals of making it a platform with global reach across automakers, service providers and technology suppliers.