Sebastian Thrun (born 1967 in Solingen, Germany) is an educator and computer scientist. He is a Google Fellow and a part-time Research Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL). He led the development of the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, and which is exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. His team also developed a vehicle called Junior, which placed second at the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007. Thrun led the development of the Google self-driving car. Thrun is also known for his work on probabilistic programming techniques in robotics, with applications including robotic mapping. In recognition of his contributions, and at age 39, Thrun was elected into the National Academy of Engineering and also into the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 2007. In 2011, Thrun received the Max-Planck-Research Award. and the inaugural AAAI Ed Feigenbaum Prize. Fast Company selected Thrun as the fifth most creative person in business in the world.
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 tourguide 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, DC, 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, PA. In 2002, Thrun helped develop mine mapping robots in a project with his colleagues William L. Whittaker and Scott Thayer, two 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. Thrun joined Google as part of a sabbatical, together with several Stanford students. At Google, Thrun co-developed Google Street View.
His last project (March 2012) is Udacity, a free university to make knowledgement available to all.