Last week I was in Japan, meeting with Udacity students and with Japanese automotive companies. It was a lot of fun, and it was exciting to see the work that Japanese automotive companies are putting into autonomous vehicles!
Japan is home to a dozen large automotive manufacturers: Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, and more. Supporting these manufacturers are large and small suppliers, providing Japan the third-largest automotive industry in the world.
Japan’s automotive market is more dispersed than America’s, both organizationally and geographically. Whereas the US automotive industry is centered around Detroit, the Japanese automotive industry is spread all over the country. This gives the Japanese economy a little bit of a Detroit-like feel; not everybody works in the automotive industry, but a lot of people do.
Localization (in the language sense, not in the lidar sense) is a big challenge for bringing the Udacity Self-Driving Car Nanodegree Program to Japan. English is not widely spoken in the country, but it seems to be more prevalent among software engineers, who need to at least read English to participate in cutting-edge projects and research. So in that sense, Self-Driving Car has an easier time than, say, Udacity’s Introduction to Programming Nanodegree Program.
One thing that really struck me in meeting with Udacity students in Japan is how important the Udacity student network can be. We hosted about 30 Self-Driving Car students in Tokyo, some of whom already worked in the automotive industry and some of whom were trying to break into that field. The students in the field were eager to connect with newcomers, particularly in a relatively small community of Udacity students.
That’s been one of our goals for the program since the beginning, that as Udacity students get jobs working on autonomous vehicles, they’ll want to pull in other Udacity students. It was fun to see that in operation in Tokyo.