A Silicon Valley start-up that offers specialized degree programs to train the next generation of technology workers has just launched a new contest — and it comes with a big prize.
Udacity, an online platform that features classes on technology subjects that lead to the awarding of "nano degrees," is trying to jump-start the development of self-driving cars. Toward that end, the company is launching a contest that comes with the chance to win $100,000, hoping to build the world's first open-source autonomous vehicle — an area in which it offers a nano degree.
The company has announced the competition in conjunction with Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-sharing giant that has big ambitions for international expansion. Didi, which handles more than 20 million rides per day and bought out Uber's operations in China, is also making aggressive inroads into cultivating driverless car technology.
The focus will be on the ability to identify stationary and moving objects from a moving car using a range of data points. The first round of the company's programming challenge is open to anyone with a background in programming concepts like machine learning and software operating systems; contestants can join as an individual or as a part of a team.
Eventually, the top five teams will be flown to the Bay Area, while the winning team could see its coding incorporated into Udacity's self-driving car. Thus far, over 1,000 teams have signed up to compete with registrants from all over the world. Although the first round kicked off on March 22, contestants have until April 21 to apply.
Udacity was co-founded by Chairman and former CEO Sebastian Thrun, who is also the former head of Google's autonomous car program. With its focus on the tech sector, Udacity has raised a whopping $160 million from various investors, while its nano degree programs boast an enrollment of 25,000 students specializing in topics such as robotics, digital marketing and self-driving cars.
These programs are tailored specifically to the more than 50 hiring partners that serve as feeders for Udacity graduates, including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Salesforce. Udacity's target demographic are people between the ages of 25 and 35 looking to make a change in their career.
Aside from autonomous vehicles, Didi's vision for the next 10 years of transportation includes better infrastructure, smarter traffic lights and a data plan for road networks. Last year, the company acquired Uber's China business, and secured a billion dollar investment from Apple.
Just last month, Didi also opened a research and development center for artificial intelligence in security and driving technologies in Silicon Valley.
— CNBC's Julia Boorstin contributed to this article.