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Sebastian Thrun

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Sebastian Thrun
Thrun in 2021
Born (1967-05-14) May 14, 1967 (age 57)
CitizenshipUnited States, Germany
Alma materUniversity of Bonn
University of Hildesheim
AwardsNational Science Foundation CAREER Award (2003)
AAAI Fellow (2006)
DARPA Grand Challenge (2005)
Scientific career
FieldsArtificial Intelligence[1]
InstitutionsGoogle X Lab (founder)
Stanford University
Carnegie Mellon University
Udacity (co-founder)
ThesisExplanation-Based Neural Network Learning: A Lifelong Learning Approach (1995)
Doctoral advisorArmin B. Cremers
Tom Mitchell[3]
Doctoral studentsFrank Dellaert[3]
John Langford[3]
Joëlle Pineau
David Stavens[3]

Sebastian Thrun (born May 14, 1967) is a German-American entrepreneur, educator, and computer scientist. He is CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation, and chairman and co-founder of Udacity. Before that, he was a Google VP and Fellow, a Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, and before that at Carnegie Mellon University. At Google, he founded Google X and Google's self-driving car team. He is also an adjunct professor at Stanford University and at Georgia Tech.[4]

Thrun led development of the robotic vehicle Stanley[5] which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, and which has since been placed on exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. His team also developed a vehicle called Junior,[6] which placed second at the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007. Thrun led the development of the Google self-driving car.[7]

Thrun is also well known for his work on probabilistic algorithms for robotics with applications including robot localization[8] and robotic mapping.[9] In recognition of his contributions, and at the age of 39, he was elected into the National Academy of Engineering and also into the Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 2007. The Guardian recognized him as one of 20 "fighters for internet freedom".[10]

Early life and education[edit]

Thrun was born in 1967 in Solingen, Germany (former West Germany), the son of Winfried and Kristin (Grüner) Thrun. He completed his Vordiplom (intermediate examination) in computer science, economics, and medicine at the University of Hildesheim in 1988. At the University of Bonn, he completed a Diplom (first degree) in 1993 and a Ph.D. (summa cum laude) in 1995 in computer science and statistics.[3]Later in his career, he was awarded many honorary Ph.D. degrees from European universities, including his first alma mater.[11]

Career and research[edit]

In 1995 he joined the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) as a research computer scientist. In 1998 he became an assistant professor and co-director of the Robot Learning Laboratory at CMU. As a faculty member at CMU, he co-founded the Master's Program in Automated Learning and Discovery, which later would become a Ph.D. program in the broad area of machine learning and scientific discovery. In 2001 Thrun spent a sabbatical year at Stanford University. He returned to CMU to an endowed professorship, the Finmeccanica Associate Professor of Computer Science and Robotics.

Thrun left CMU in July 2003 to become an associate professor at Stanford University and was appointed as the director of SAIL in January 2004. From 2007 to 2011, Thrun was a full professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford. On April 1, 2011, Thrun relinquished his tenure at Stanford to join Google as a Google Fellow. On January 23, 2012, he co-founded an online private educational organization, Udacity, which produced massive open online courses.[12] He was a Google VP and Fellow, and worked on development of the Google driverless car system, after winning DARPA Grand Challenge and finishing in second place in DARPA Urban Challenge as a professor.[13] Thrun was interviewed in the 2018 documentary on artificial intelligence Do You Trust This Computer?.[citation needed]


Thrun developed a number of autonomous robotic systems that earned him international recognition. In 1994, he started the University of Bonn's Rhino project together with his doctoral thesis advisor Armin B. Cremers. In 1997 Thrun and his colleagues Wolfram Burgard and Dieter Fox developed the world's first robotic tour guide in the Deutsches Museum Bonn (1997). In 1998, the follow-up robot "Minerva" was installed in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where it guided tens of thousands of visitors during a two-week deployment period. Thrun went on to found the CMU/Pitt Nursebot project, which fielded an interactive humanoid robot in a nursing home near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2002, Thrun helped develop mine mapping robots in a project with his colleagues William L. Whittaker and Scott Thayer, research professors at Carnegie Mellon University. After his move to Stanford University in 2003, he engaged in the development of the robot Stanley, which in 2005 won the DARPA Grand Challenge. His former graduate student Michael Montemerlo, who was co-advised by William L. Whittaker, led the software development for this robot. In 2007, Thrun's robot "Junior" won second place in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge.[14] Thrun joined Google as part of a sabbatical, together with several Stanford students. At Google, he co-developed Google Street View.

Thrun's best known contributions to robotics are on the theoretical end. He contributed to the area of probabilistic robotics, a field that marries statistics and robotics. He and his research group made substantial contributions in areas of mobile robot localization, such as Monte Carlo Localization,[8] simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), and control. Probabilistic techniques have since become mainstream in robotics, and are used in numerous commercial applications. In the fall of 2005, Thrun published a textbook entitled Probabilistic Robotics together with his long-term co-workers Dieter Fox and Wolfram Burgard.[15] Since 2007, a Japanese translation of Probabilistic Robotics has been available on the Japanese market.

Thrun is one of the principal investors of the Stanford spin-off VectorMagic.[16]



  1. ^ Thrun, S. (2002). "Probabilistic robotics" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 45 (3): 52–57. doi:10.1145/504729.504754. S2CID 14552983.
  2. ^ Nigam, K.; McCallum, A. K.; Thrun, S.; Mitchell, T. (2000). "Text Classification from Labeled and Unlabeled Documents using EM" (PDF). Machine Learning. 39 (2/3): 103. doi:10.1023/A:1007692713085. S2CID 686980.
  3. ^ a b c d e Sebastian Thrun at the Mathematics Genealogy Project Edit this at Wikidata Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  4. ^ "Sebastian Thrun | Georgia Tech - College of Computing". Georgia Tech. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  5. ^ Thrun, S. et al., Thrun, Sebastian; Montemerlo, Mike; Dahlkamp, Hendrik; Stavens, David; Aron, Andrei; Diebel, James; Fong, Philip; Gale, John; Halpenny, Morgan; Hoffmann, Gabriel; Lau, Kenny; Oakley, Celia; Palatucci, Mark; Pratt, Vaughan; Stang, Pascal; Strohband, Sven; Dupont, Cedric; Jendrossek, Lars-Erik; Koelen, Christian; Markey, Charles; Rummel, Carlo; Van Niekerk, Joe; Jensen, Eric; Alessandrini, Philippe; Bradski, Gary; Davies, Bob; Ettinger, Scott; Kaehler, Adrian; Nefian, Ara; Mahoney, Pamela (2007). "Stanley: The Robot That Won the DARPA Grand Challenge". The 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. Springer Tracts in Advanced Robotics. Vol. 36. pp. 1–43. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-73429-1_1. ISBN 978-3-540-73428-4.
  6. ^ Montemerlo, M. et al., Montemerlo, Michael; Becker, Jan; Bhat, Suhrid; Dahlkamp, Hendrik; Dolgov, Dmitri; Ettinger, Scott; Haehnel, Dirk; Hilden, Tim; Hoffmann, Gabe; Huhnke, Burkhard; Johnston, Doug; Klumpp, Stefan; Langer, Dirk; Levandowski, Anthony; Levinson, Jesse; Marcil, Julien; Orenstein, David; Paefgen, Johannes; Penny, Isaac; Petrovskaya, Anna; Pflueger, Mike; Stanek, Ganymed; Stavens, David; Vogt, Antone; Thrun, Sebastian (2009). "Junior: The Stanford Entry in the Urban Challenge". The DARPA Urban Challenge. Springer Tracts in Advanced Robotics. Vol. 56. pp. 91–123. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-03991-1_3. ISBN 978-3-642-03990-4.
  7. ^ Markoff, John (October 9, 2010). "Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic". The New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c "ICRA Brochure 2020" (PDF).
  9. ^ Robotic mapping: a survey by Sebastian Thrun in Nebel, Bernhard; Lakemeyer, Gerhard (2002). Exploring Artificial Intelligence in the New Millennium (The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Artificial Intelligence). San Diego: Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 1-55860-811-7.
  10. ^ Ball, James (April 20, 2012). "The Guardian's Open 20: fighters for internet freedom". The Guardian. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  11. ^ "Thrun's CV" (PDF).
  12. ^ Salmon, Felix (January 23, 2012). "Udacity and the Future of Online Universities". Reuters. Archived from the original on January 24, 2012. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  13. ^ Thrun, Sebastian "What we're driving at", The Official Google Blog, October 9, 2010. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  14. ^ "Junior: The Stanford Entry in the Urban Challenge" (PDF). Stanford University. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  15. ^ Thrun, S.; Burgard, W.; Fox, D. (2005). Probabilistic Robotics. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-20162-3.
  16. ^ "About". Vector Magic. Archived from the original on November 17, 2012. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  17. ^ a b c "Marquis biographies online: Profile detail, Sebastian Burkhard Thrun". Marquis Who's Who. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  18. ^ "MMOST CREATIVE PEOPLE 2011 Profile detail, Sebastian Thrun". Fast Company. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  19. ^ "4 - Sebastian Thrun". The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers. The Foreign Policy Group, LLC. Archived from the original on December 3, 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  20. ^ "Max Planck Research Award 2011". Mpg.de. March 16, 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  21. ^ "Sebastian Thrun". AAAI Ed Feigenbaum Prize. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  22. ^ "Sebastian Thrun to Deliver Harvey Mudd Commencement Address". Harvey Mudd College. December 8, 2018. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  23. ^ Tom Vanderbilt (December 2012). "How Artificial Intelligence Can Change Higher Education". Smithsonian.
  24. ^ "Great Immigrants: Sebastian Thrun".
  25. ^ "Fellows | European Association for Artificial Intelligence". www.eurai.org. Retrieved October 28, 2019.
  26. ^ "AAAI Classic Paper Award". AAAI. Retrieved June 26, 2023.

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