Udacity introduces real robots and virtual worlds to help students build skills

Udacity is hosting its annual Intersect conference this week, and the online learning platform is introducing some new programs and features for students at the event. Those include two new ways for students to practice and hone their practical skills – in both real and virtual worlds.

For robotics education, Udacity is teaming up with robotics and automation specialists KUKA and the Karslruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) to debut the KUKA Udacity Robot Learning Lab at KIT. This is a special lab which will allow students to put working code on real industrial robots in a university lab environment via a web interface to validate their work.

Students will first run their code in simulation before moving on to test it on the robots themselves, but it’s an invaluable step in being able to develop the skills necessary to build and program robots for use in the real world, and one that’s tricky to come by in a virtual learning environment.

Meanwhile, students in Udacity’s autonomous car and flying vehicle programs will be able to test their programming and software, too, but in a virtual environment called “Udacity Universe.” It’s obviously trickier to provide real-world experience in either of these areas, so Udacy has created a shared virtual environment where students will control automated car and fleets of flying vehicles, all interaction in concert with a simulated world populated by virtual people and other objects.

Udacity is working together with Unity and drone delivery company Zipline to build this virtual interactive environment, and its ultimate goal is to provide a system-level simulation that should provide some idea of how these things will work when implemented in the real world. That should give students the opportunity to work in a virtual proving ground that’s more rich, complex and full of edge cases than any single purpose simulator can be on its own.

In online education, real-world experience can be one of the most challenging things to provide, especially in areas of advanced technology where there isn’t that much hands-on experience to be had anywhere. Udacity’s getting around this in creative ways, and these are two examples.