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How a Self-Driving Startup is Working with Universities to Stay on the Cutting Edge of Research

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Developing reliable self-driving cars requires pushing the envelope in computer science and artificial intelligence. While we’re applying the latest techniques in computer vision and machine learning to the work we’re doing every day, some of the most advanced research is being done at the university level. That’s why it’s critical to stay connected to the academic community, so we can cultivate the young minds that will help us bring cutting-edge work out of the lab and into the real world.

To do this, we’ve formed unique affiliations with Carnegie Mellon University and Georgia Institute of Technology to work with three world-class faculty members. Simon Lucey, Deva Ramanan and James Hays are collaborating with Argo AI to push the limits in computer vision and machine learning. These research scientists are playing an instrumental role in developing the core technologies that will allow self-driving cars both to see and understand the world around them, and to predict road user behavior.

While Lucey, Ramanan and Hays are spending time at Argo AI , they are also benefiting from Argo funding that supports student research covering a wide range of issues pertaining to self-driving cars. We’re backing their campus work and supporting the time spent with their university colleagues to ensure we are investing in the future of robotics.

Last year, fewer than 60,000 students graduated in the field of computer and information science, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet there are close to 500,000 computing jobs available right now across the United States. So it’s important we support the faculty’s continued presence and engagement on campus, as this talent shortage can only be addressed if industry and academia work together to support research and invest wisely in educational programs that get students more involved in science and technology.

The following collaborations reflect one way Argo is investing in that future and looking to apply lessons from academia to make self-driving cars a reality.

Deva Ramanan is an associate professor at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, where his research interests span computer vision and machine learning. With a focus on visual recognition, Ramanan’s work involves training computer programs to identify people by distinguishing different body parts and comparing them against a trove of human and nonhuman models.

“Making sure self-driving cars can accurately identify people in all of their different shapes, sizes and positions is an essential step to establishing their safety and reliability,” said Ramanan. “I look forward to developing solutions for this problem with Argo, while continuing to stay connected with my students at Carnegie Mellon and uncovering new areas of research for them to explore.”

Prior to this, Ramanan was an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine. He was awarded the David Marr Prize in 2009 and the PASCAL VOC Lifetime Achievement Prize in 2010. He earned an NSF Career Award in 2010, the UCI Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research in 2011 and the PAMI Young Researcher Award in 2012. Popular Science named Ramanan one of its “Brilliant 10” researchers in 2012.

Also from Carnegie Mellon is Simon Lucey, an associate research professor at the Robotics Institute. Lucey leads the organization’s CI2CV Computer Vision Lab, which is engaged in cutting-edge research developing technology in computer vision and machine learning. His work includes training computers to extract geometric information from images and videos, novel approaches for applying vision and learning to embedded devices, and developing ways for computer systems to effectively read facial actions and body behavior.

“Working with Argo is a great opportunity to develop systems that can more readily interpret and anticipate the 3D world,” said Lucey. “Not only will students at Carnegie Mellon benefit from this collaboration by spotting fertile ground for further research, but we’ll be able to make great strides in preparing autonomous vehicles for the real world.”

Prior to his current position, Lucey spent five years as a principal research scientist at Australia’s leading federal research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Lucey was awarded the prestigious Australian Research Council’s Future Fellowship in 2009, and holds numerous NSF awards. He also has research gifts from Apple, Adobe, Samsung and Bosch.

James Hays is an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing, where he focuses on using internet-scale data and crowd-sourcing to improve scene understanding and allow smarter image synthesis and manipulation. His research interests span computer vision, graphics, robotics and machine learning.

“The opportunities and challenges of creating perception systems for autonomous driving are significant,” said Hays. “At Argo AI, we have the opportunity to train algorithms at a scale beyond what is possible in academia, but we also have the challenge of making a system that works reliably in a real world that’s not as well-behaved as carefully curated academic data sets. These challenges will help identify interesting longer-term research areas for my lab at Georgia Tech.”

Previously, Hays was the Manning assistant professor of computer science at Brown University. He did postdoctoral work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009. Hays is the recipient of the Sloan fellowship and NSF CAREER award.

Along with our academic partners, Argo is dedicated to making transportation safer, and more accessible, affordable and convenient for all. Our unique collaboration with Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech is enabling us to push through our vision to deploy self-driving cars for the future, while ensuring the academic community has the tools to develop the next generation of computer scientists.

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