Sebastian Thrun – Affordable Education for Everyone

Sebastian Thrun – Affordable Education for Everyone

Most students spend an estimated $12,804 for tuition, room and board during an undergraduate degree program at a public university. The amount increases to $32,184 for a similar degree at a private university or college. While some students receive financial aids and scholarships from universities and private foundations, others take up student loans to pay for their college. These high interest loans may lead to significant debt at the end of the college. The whole process discourages many high school students from pursuing higher education. Many educators and activists oppose the high cost of college. They believe that college and education should be more accessible to everyone. Instead of talking about the issue, Sebastian Thrun decided to do something.

Sebastian Thrun is a German educator and a part-time computer science research professor at Stanford University. He is also the former director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University, California. His other professional and academic achievements include:

  • Led the development of robotic vehicle Stanley, winner of the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency, or DARPA, Grand Prize in 2005.
  • His vehicle Junior also won the second prize at DARPA Urban challenge in 2007.
  • As a Google Fellow, he founded Google X and contributed to the creation of Google self-driving car and Google Glass.
  • Member of the National Academy of Engineering and German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.
  • Ranked number five by Fast Company in the list of Most Creative People in Business.
  • Received the Max-Planck-Research Award and AAAI Ed Feigenbaum Prize.
  • He is also considered an expert in the field of Probabilistic Robotics, and has published several articles and text books in the field.

In spite of all the commendable achievements in technology, Thrun’s greatest contribution to the world is perhaps in the field of education. He co-founded Udacity, an online 21st century university which strives to connect some of the greatest teachers to thousands of students across the world.  Instead of teaching 200 students in a class at Stanford University, Thrun hopes that he and other educators like him will be able to teach hundreds of students per day at a low cost by using the economics of the internet. Within a few weeks of launching Udacity, more than 160,000 students from 190 countries enrolled in their first class called An Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.

Since then, hundreds of classes have been offered by various educators across the world via Udacity. Students do not receive any credits or degrees from Stanford University. However, they are ranked based on their performance in comparison to other students, and receive a certification of completion.

Udacity has received a five million dollar funding from Charles River Ventures. It offers 11 courses in subjects such as computer programming, statistics and math, along with a robocar programming workshop. While most of the courses at Udacity have been free, Thrun plans to start offering degree programs for a low cost as well. Thrun’s success lies in the fact that all his classes are interactive, and help students solve real-world problems.

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