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Self-driving cars soon to be open source

Let's say you want to take on Elon Musk. Maybe you're a few billion dollars short of designing and building space rockets a la SpaceX, but what about those self-driving Tesla cars? How do you start?

Well, there might soon be a way to get in the driver's seat of the self-driving field that has had geeks quivering with excitement for the last few years.

Udacity is a company aiming to set up a specialised nanodegree in self-driving cars, and to do it, they're developing their own self-driving Lincoln MKZ. What makes this self-driver so different is that it's going to be developed by students and the code will available to the public.

The first step in that direction is setting up a simulator. It's not smart to turn a car loose on the streets if it's a bit crazy in the coconut, after all. True to their word, Udacity's made this simulator open for everyone. In fact, if you have a copy of Unity, you can download it and drive (or be driven) along a mountain route. Cool!

Beyond the coolness, this is the kind of active effort that makes new fields like this really take off. As is usually the case with these sorts of things, self-driving cars draw on decades of research, but until a few years ago they had a very low profile and just trickled along.

The first signs of something brewing was when car manufacturers started adding smarter and smarter traction control, stability control, power steering and cruise control - putting the car in control of its own actions. Then they started adding computer vision features like automatic parking and lane departure warning - some cars will even avoid accidents for you. We also had navigation systems that could give directions over thousands of kilometers.

We had all the ingredients, the missing link that is now being filled in is the software to orchestrate all these systems and fill the role of the driver. With simulators like this, that's exactly what anyone can develop themselves, and Udacity is giving them a place their contributions can work towards an actual real-world vehicle.

It's got open source, it's got virtual environments, it's got self-driving cars - is this the most 2017 story ever?

Self-driving cars require self-driving car software, and Udacity’s helping to feed that need with its nanodegree program in the field. Now, the online education company is also making available its self-driving car simulator via open source license, allowing anyone with a working knowledge of Unity to gab the assets, load its preexisting scenes and create their own tracks for virtual testing.

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