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.”
According to Recode, Jiajun Zhu, principal software engineer for the project, and according to The New York Times, Dave Ferguson, another software lead, have departed as well.
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.