Google's Self-Driving Car Leader Exits

Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving car project at Google, spoke during a prototype preview in September 2015. Mr. Urmson announced in a blog post Friday that he is leaving the company. ENLARGE
Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving car project at Google, spoke during a prototype preview in September 2015. Mr. Urmson announced in a blog post Friday that he is leaving the company. Photo: Reuters

Chris Urmson, the face of Alphabet Inc. GOOGL 1.21 % ’s self-driving car effort and an original member of the project, is leaving the company after seven years, giving no clear reason for his departure and no hint of his destination.

Mr. Urmson announced the decision in a blog post Friday.

Mr. Urmson had been the director of the project for several years until John Krafcik, an auto industry veteran, was appointed chief executive of the program in 2015 with the intention of commercializing the research that had been performed since the program started in 2009.

Mr. Urmson’s departure means there are few people left at the company who were there at the program’s start, as the project has moved from more pure research toward launching a product to the market.

Mr. Urmson, a Canadian who got his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University, was the technical leader of the school’s three entries in the Defense Department’s “Grand Challenges” to have cars drive autonomously across the desert and then in a city environment.

Carnegie Mellon’s team won the 2007 Urban Challenge and, two years later, Mr. Urmson joined Google Inc., recruited by Sebastian Thrun, who had been Stanford University’s team leader and was earlier a professor at Carnegie Mellon. Alphabet became Google’s parent company through a restructuring in 2015.

“I’ve decided the time is right to step down and find my next adventure. [Friday] will be my last day on the project as [chief technology officer]. After leading our cars through the human equivalent of 150 years of driving and helping our project make the leap from pure research to developing a product that we hope someday anyone will be able to use, I am ready for a fresh challenge,” Mr. Urmson said in his blog post.

Write to Mike Ramsey at [email protected]


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