The long-time CTO and director of Alphabet’s self-driving car project is leaving the Mountain View company, according to a report this afternoon from Recode. Urmson has been on the project for seven years, and two other early — and crucial — members of the project, including Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson are also leaving the project reports say…
Chris Urmson was the project’s lead for more than seven years, and was one of the project’s most important public-facing figures, having given many talks on the project and its goals. You might remember a TED talk that the director gave in the summer of last year, in which he explained how the cars see the world. Urmson hasn’t mentioned where he’s going next, but had this to say:
If I can find another project that turns into an obsession and becomes something more, I will consider myself twice lucky.
A spokesman for Alphabet confirmed the departure:
Seven years ago, the idea that a car could drive itself wasn’t much more than an idea. Chris has been a vital force for the project, helping the team move from a research phase to a point where this lifesaving technology will soon become a reality. He departs with our warmest wishes.
Recode notes that Jiajun Zhu, one of the founding members of the self-driving car project, has “listed a new role as [sic] a startup co-founder on his LinkedIn profile,” although it seems he has since reverted his profile changes. Zhu is the team’s top software engineer and specifically leads a team working on “perception technologies (to make the cars see the world around them)”.
According to The New York Times, Dave Ferguson, another key software guy, also left:
More recently, two other Google car engineers, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, who are considered experts on so-called machine vision technology, left to found an as-yet-unannounced start-up, according to the two people with knowledge of the Google car project.
Most recently in self-driving car project news, we heard that the Mountain View company’s partnership to create self-driving minivans is mostly inconsequential, and Eric Schmidt saying that self-driving cars are years, not decades, away from becoming a reality.