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So You Wanna Build a Flying Car

Binary Code Technology
Binary Code Technology

Orville and Wilbur should’ve been so lucky. The Wright Brothers, famous for being the first to put a sustainable ‘flying machine’ in the sky had but a few years of high school education.

Now, as an extension of decades of college and university-based aviation-related engineering education, would-be flying car designers can avail themselves of a new flying car nanodegree program being offered by online educator, Udacity.

A four-month program, the course teaches many of the autonomous flight software engineering skills necessary for a career in flying cars and drone robotics.

The program, which began in February 2018 and is just beginning to see its first graduates, has seen thousands of applicants worldwide (about half from the U.S. and the remainder mainly from India, China, and Germany) and hundreds of enrollees.

The coursework uses flight simulators to offer hands-on experience ranging from programming aircraft in simulation to deploying code on hardware, according to Jake Lussier, Udacity’s Flying Car project lead.

The school has partnered with Fotokite, a Zurich-based drone startup, to provide students a custom C++-based simulator for studying low-level tasks, such as control and estimation. It also offers a custom Unity-based simulation for exploration of higher-level tasks, such as planning and mission optimization.

Lussier notes that both simulators offer APIs so that students can integrate their own external code. This feature, central to the flying car learning experience, allows students to write simple, yet powerful, Python Code right in their ‘classrooms’ into interactive Jupyter notebooks.

By the end of the program, students will have learned the full stack of flight autonomy for aircraft from drones to fixed-wing, and beyond.

Dave Clarke

Dave Clarke is a California-based writer who is fascinated by the way technology changes our lives.