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  • By John R. Quain

The Push for Autonomous Vehicle Engineers is Global

There's a "desperate shortage" of engineers needed to make self-driving cars a reality.

Even with some optimistic predictions that commerical, fully autonomous vehicles will appear on roads as early as the second quarter of next year, the truth is that autonomy will take years to perfect. So universities, including Cambridge in the U.K., are scrambling to get engineers up to speed.

Cambridge's department of engineering, for example, has put a new spin on an information engineering course for second year undergraduate students to focus on autonomous driving. The course is designed to bring together multiple disciplines including signal processing, computer vision, and machine learning, and apply them to the problem of autonomous driving.

"There is a desperate shortage of engineers who are familiar with computer vision, deep learning and reinforcement learning," said Cambridge professor Professor Roberto Cipolla.

Not surprisingly, one of the guest lecturers for the new course will be Alex Kendall, alumnus and co-founder of autonomous vehicle company Wayve. Wayve uses an approach similar to Tesla's software-centric system, relying on reinforcement learning rather than extensive perception systems (translation: no lidar). Whether that approach will ever deliver the necessary level of safety for autonomy, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, even illustrious institutions of higher learning like Cambridge are trying to attract more students to the field. Fifteen years ago a GM engineer working on connected cars and fuel cells complained to me that there weren't enough engineers to hire. Apparently, that's still the case.

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