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Sebastian Thrun

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[[Sebastian Thrun at a 2006 summit at Stanford University.|250px]]
Sebastian Thrun at a 2006 summit at Stanford University.

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Sebastian Thrun (born 1967 in Solingen, Germany) is a Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL). He led the development of the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. His team also developed Junior, which placed second at the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007. Thrun is also known for his work on probabilistic programming techniques in robotics, with applications including robotic mapping. In recognition of his contributions, Thrun was elected into the National Academy of Engineering and also into the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 2007.



Thrun received his bachelor's degree (Vordiplom) in computer science, economics, and medicine, from the University of Hildesheim in 1988. At the University of Bonn, he received both his master's degree (1993) and PhD (1995) in computer science.


In 1995 he joined the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). In 1998 he became an assistant professor and co-director of the Robert 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. Since 2007, Thrun is a full professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford.


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. This led to the development of 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[1]. Thrun joined Google as part of a sabbatical, together with several Stanford students. At Google, Thrun co-developed Google Street View.

Thrun's best known contributions to robotics are on the theoretical end. Thrun contributed to the area of probabilistic robotics, a field that marries statistics and robotics. Thrun and his research group made substantial contributions in areas of mobile robot localization, 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.[2] Since 2007, a Japanese translation of Probabilistic Robotics is available on the Japanese market.

As a private investor Thrun helped to take the free service VectorMagic into the private sector.


  1. DARPA Urban Challenge
  2. Thrun, S.; Burgard, W.; Fox, D.. Probabilistic Robotics. 2005. ISBN 0262201623. MIT Press. 

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