A number of long-time members of the self-driving car team at Google are leaving the company, including technical lead Chris Urmson who often acts as the face of the project.
Urmson announced his departure in a post on Medium, noting that after the seven-and-a-half years that he has been involved with the autonomous car project, Google is finally “developing a product that we hope someday anyone will be able to use.” That’s a long way from the pre-Google DARPA grand challenges that Urmson worked on with his team from Carnegie Mellon to develop early autonomous cars that could navigate through the desert and a mock city a decade ago.
John Krafcik, the CEO of Google’s self-driving car division, who joined the team last year from Hyundai, tweeted, “Chris is an incredible colleague [and] leader. Thank you for your passion [and] humility. Good luck on your new adventures!”
“Seven years ago, the idea that a car could drive itself wasn’t much more than an idea,” said a spokesperson for Google’s self-driving car project. “Chris has been a vital force for the project, helping the team move from a research phase to a point where this life-saving technology will soon become a reality. He departs with our warmest wishes.”
A Google executive recently said the self-driving car project is “close to graduating from X,” suggesting that the project is nearly ready to stand alone as a business unit rather than as part of Alphabet’s special projects division.