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Google's self-driving car unit is losing three key execs

Among the departures: The project’s tech lead.

Transportation Sec'y Foxx Discusses Future Transportation Trends With Google CEO
Chris Urmson, CTO, Google Self-Driving Car (r); Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Alphabet (c)
Justin Sullivan / Getty

Three early members of Google’s self-driving car unit are departing, including the project’s chief technician. Chris Urmson, who serves as CTO and technical lead, announced that he was leaving after seven years.

Urmson did not indicate what was next for him, but wrote: “If I can find another project that turns into an obsession and becomes something more, I will consider myself twice lucky.”

But Urmson isn't the only big name moving on from the Google unit.

Jiajun Zhu, the team’s principal software engineer and one of its founders, listed a new role as a startup co-founder on his LinkedIn profile. The New York Times is reporting Dave Ferguson, another software lead on the unit, has left as well.

Urmson took over the project two years ago when one of its founders, Sebastian Thrun, departed Google. The project’s other founder, Anthony Levandowski, exited earlier this year to form Otto, an autonomous trucking startup, with a handful of Google colleagues.

Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon professor, is a respected figure in the self-driving car world. And he was instrumental in setting up Google’s audacious project, which has focused, unlike most of the car industry, on building fully driverless vehicles.

His departure is certainly a loss for the project. Urmson was the main engineer who built the code running Google’s autonomous software, according to one person who worked with the team.

Last fall, Alphabet brought on John Krafcik, the former CEO of Hyundai USA and an auto industry veteran, as CEO of the car unit. The unit has yet to say what its business model is.

Apple, one of Google’s chief rivals, recently swapped the exec in charge of its secretive car project, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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