Issue: Mar 2012


Vermont Native and National Guardsman Now at Google Responsible for Testing Robotic, Self-Driving Au



by John Larkin

Jeremy Spencer, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Vermont Tech in 2006, has been hired as a Google field engineer responsible for testing robotic, self-driving automobiles.

For Spencer, an officer in the Vermont National Guard, the road to Google was more of a rollercoaster ride than a Sunday drive. While a student at Vermont Tech, Spencer was called to serve in Iraq in 2004. He returned to Vermont Tech the following year, only to be called up again, this time to help with Hurricane Katrina relief. After finally earning his associate’s degree, Spencer enrolled in the industrial engineering program at East Carolina University — he graduated in 2008, and was again called to duty in 2010, this time in Afghanistan.

“In 2011, I decided to take some time to travel, so I headed across country to California,” said the Fayston, Vermont native. “A friend of a friend introduced me to a program manager at Google who was hiring test drivers for cars using artificial intelligence software.” Spencer so impressed the program manager that he was hired on the spot.

Now, Spencer spends his days in the passenger seat of a Toyota Prius that drives itself. According to a New York Times article about the project, “robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated ….”

“Driving is far more complex than most of people realize,” says Spencer. “When we are driving down the road, we make hundreds of unconscious decisions. My job is to act as the rationale, average driver, giving feedback about the car’s behavior, how it takes turns, how it accelerates and brakes. The engineers and programmers are geniuses at taking the feedback and writing it into programs that guide the cars.”

About Vermont Technical College – Vermont Technical College is the only public institution of higher learning in Vermont whose mission is applied education. One of the five Vermont State Colleges, Vermont Tech serves students from throughout Vermont, New England, and beyond at its two primary campuses in Williston and Randolph Center, and at nine nursing campuses located throughout the state. Our academic programs encompass a wide range of engineering, agricultural, health, and business fields that are vital to producing the knowledge workers need most by employers in the state and in the region. www.vtc.edu.

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