If you’ve been paying any attention to tech news headlines lately, then you know exactly what autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are and how they’re getting ready to change the world. In fact, tech analysts and pundits have repeatedly said that self-driving cars are easily the most anticipated technology since the invention of the commercially viable automobile itself.
While breakthrough advancements in graphics and virtual reality are equally exciting, autonomous vehicles represent a more universally appealing industry because almost everyone commutes or travels. However, the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles hasn’t happened yet, and it will be up to the upcoming wave of industry professionals to follow through on refining and distributing the first generations of self-driving cars.
With that said, here are the 5 kinds of educational paths you can take if you’re interested in contributing to the development of self-driving cars.
1. Electrical and Computer Engineering with Specialization in Advanced Mobility
While the systems that make the decision for the autonomous vehicles are based within software frameworks, the actual mechanics involved are facilitated through electrical hardware that interfaces with those computer systems. As such, a degree in electrical and computer engineering with a focus on advanced mobility provides one of the most targeted skill sets for anyone who wants to participate in this field.
For example, a student who is interested in this path could get an MSECE degree from Kettering University – a popular and comprehensive degree program that covers everything you need to know to call yourself an expert in the most pivotal form of engineering related to self-driving cars.
2. Software Development
Since all autonomous vehicle systems are based extensively on software algorithms and narrow forms of artificial intelligence, it makes sense to specialize in this field if you have the goal of participating in the development of autonomous vehicle systems.
There are already software degrees that are geared towards AI and autonomous systems, so you’ll have a few different options to choose from in terms of the degree programs and courses available in this category. Plus, even if you don’t wind up being the one to crack the code on the most accurate self-driving car algorithms, you can always lean on a software degree to become an eligible candidate for high-paying tech jobs.
3. Machine Learning
Machine learning is the process of letting a computer teach itself advanced topics based on repeated trial and error, also known as reinforcement learning. This is a fascinating field of study that has contributed some interesting advancements in the realm of designing narrow AIs and may one day soon play a role in the development of the first general AI. While learning how to make software systems that allow computers to teach themselves might seem like literal rocket science, the concepts of “neural networks” and “algorithms” are actually more straightforward than you’d think.
Overall, anyone who did well in math and science should be able to get a firm grasp on how to design and implement machine learning systems, even using desktop software from the comfort of their home. There are some very interesting TED Talks on this subject that can make any techie enthusiastic about the idea of working on the world’s first AI, not just for the sake of creating better self-driving cars, but also to work on other innovative projects that are just begging to be completed during the next decade.
4. Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineering will become increasingly important as autonomous vehicles begin to take flight. Also, even long before we see the release of the first self-piloting personal flying machines, self-driving cars will need to behave a lot like scheduled air traffic. In the same way flight departures and landings are coordinated to keep places from colliding, similar systems are being conceived which might one day make it possible for cars to sense each other’s position and take automatic action to avoid collision.
Autonomous systems will also benefit from the key concepts learned through an aerospace engineering degree program, such as aerodynamic and the physics involved calculating trajectories and maintaining advanced machinery with a high degree of precision and accuracy.
Autonomous vehicles will clearly have a tremendous impact on the logistics and transportation industries, especially when we reach the point where there are networks of self-driving semi-trucks on the road. While truck drivers should feel secure in knowing that their job probably won’t be widely replaced by AI for at least another decade, this is an eventual reality that we’re headed towards as autonomous systems become more advanced and reliable.
A degree in logistics could help you design some of the first systems that will be used to govern the operation of such extensive automated vehicle fleets. Thus, being a specialist in this area also looks good on your resume if your goal is to apply for roles on corporate teams that are working towards building the first AI-powered transportation networks. For example, you could help a municipality design one of the first fully autonomous public transportation networks.
The Experts in the Fields Above Will Usher in a New Era of Transportation
With well-known brands like Tesla, Mercedes, and Cadillac all having demonstrated working autonomous vehicles, it won’t be long before the self-driving feature becomes a common mainstream option in most vehicles. When that happens, we’ll experience an entirely new way of life because driving will be safer, less stressful, and more efficient.
While the benefits that a self-driving car provides are obvious, the people who are pushing forth the progress behind the scenes don’t always get the credit they deserve. Still, pioneers in the fields above can take solace and satisfaction in knowing that they played integral roles in the initial advent of the first autonomous vehicle systems.
The opportunity to participate in the development of this world-changing technology is one that is unique to this generation, so it’s one of the most fulfilling and commendable career paths for any tech enthusiast.