Sun, Aug 07, 2016 - Page 16 News List

Self-driving car project leader departs Google

MOVING ON:Spokesman Johnny Luu said Chris Urmson was vital for the project, helping move the team from development toward implementation

Reuters

Chris Urmson, who was instrumental in building Google’s self-driving car project, on Friday said he is leaving the team after seven-and-a-half years.

Alphabet Inc’s Google had named Urmson chief technical officer of the project after it hired former Hyundai Motor Co executive John Krafcik to be chief executive of the project.

Urmson, who joined the project when it was launched and has been a public face of Google’s autonomous vehicle efforts, in March testified before a US Senate panel on autonomous cars.

Krafcik confirmed Urmson’s departure on Friday afternoon on Twitter.

Urmson, in a blog post late on Friday, said he was “ready for a fresh challenge.”

He said he was not sure what he would do next.

“Going to take some time and get some perspective from outside of Google,” he wrote in a text message to reporters.

‘INEVITABLE TECH’

Urmson told reporters earlier this year that self-driving cars are coming.

“I’ve gone from hoping this would happen to thinking it might happen to knowing it will happen,” Urmson said.

Google self-driving car project spokesman Johnny Luu confirmed Urmson’s departure and praised him.

“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 life-saving technology will soon become a reality,” Luu said.

Google’s project has had other significant departures, even as it has hired dozens of new employees.

OTHER DEPARTURES

Earlier this year, Anthony Levandowski, who was product manager for Google’s self-driving car program, left the project to cofound a start-up with two other former Google employees.

The project is expected to become a standalone company this year. Last month, it appointed its first general counsel.

Google has logged more than 2.9 million kilometers of autonomous driving in testing in Texas, California, Arizona and Washington states.

It has said it has no timetable for making self-driving vehicles available to the public.

Officials have said Google is preparing to make its self-driving car unit a separate company. The program is now part of its X research laboratory unit.

“The self-driving car project is in the middle of graduating from X and this is sort of a gradual process,” Astro Teller, who heads the X program, told NBC News in April.

In May, Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said they had agreed to work together to build a fleet of nearly 100 self-driving minivans, the first time a Silicon Valley firm had teamed up with a traditional automaker to develop an autonomous vehicle.

In March, reports said that Google’s self-driving car team was expanding and hiring more people with automotive industry expertise, underscoring the company’s determination to move the division past the experimental stage.

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