SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – The chief technology officer for Google’s self-driving car mission announced Friday he would be hitting the road, and that the day marked his last at the company.
Roboticist Chris Urmson said in a blog post that after leading the autonomous car team and helping make the leap from research to development, he is “ready for a fresh challenge.”
He did not specify what that challenge might be.
“I have every confidence that the mission is in capable hands,” Urmson said.
“It has been a privilege and honor to be part of a team that has been at the forefront of bringing this life-saving technology to the world.”
Urmson joined what was then a secret project inside California-based Google a little more than seven years ago.
Autonomous cars were among the big-vision ideas being pursued by an X Lab at Google at the time.
Urmson had previously been a research scientist on a Carnegie Mellon University self-driving car team that fielded a contender in a competition by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the US military focused on new technology.
US media reported that Urmson may have been unhappy with the project’s trajectory since a car industry executive was hired last year to turn it into its own company at Google parent Alphabet.
“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,” Google spokesman Johnny Luu said in response to an AFP inquiry.
Luu maintained that Urmson is departing “with our warmest wishes” and would not comment on reports that he may have clashed with the team’s new boss.
Google has driven its autonomous cars some 1.5 million miles (2.4 million kilometers) with only some minor dust-ups.
In May the company announced plans for its self-driving car program to put down roots in the Detroit area with a technology center.
The facility will house engineers and others testing vehicles provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Alphabet said at the time.
The 53,000 square foot (5,000 square meter) center will enable Google and its partners to “further develop and refine self-driving technology,” according to Alphabet.
Google added 100 new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid vehicles to its fleet of self-driving vehicles in a major expansion that same month.
The collaboration with Fiat Chrysler marked the first time the internet giant has worked directly with an automaker to build self-driving vehicles.
The tech giant began testing its autonomous driving technology in 2009 using a Toyota Prius equipped with Google equipment.
It now has some 70 vehicles, including Lexus cars, adapted by Google in addition to its in-house designed cars unveiled in 2014