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Meet the startup that two of Google’s top self-driving engineers left to create

Jiajun Zhu, who helped co-found Google’s self-driving project, and Dave Ferguson have just launched an autonomous car company called Nuro.ai.

Google Self-Driving Car Mark Wilson / Getty

Add another self-driving startup to your long list of self-driving startups: Nuro.ai.

Perhaps the most compelling feature of the company, which is still in semi-stealth mode, is that it was co-founded by two former top executives of Google’s self-driving car project: Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson.

Zhu, one of the original founders of the search giant’s autonomous car effort, and Ferguson, a lead software engineer, departed Google’s car shop along with its chief technology officer, Chris Urmson. Although it’s not clear where Urmson is headed next, Nuro.ai’s head of product, Michael Hanuschik, said “unequivocally [Urmson] is not currently with [Nuro.ai].”

That said, it doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility in the future. "We enjoyed working with Chris very much and would happily do it again,” Zhu and Ferguson told Recode in a statement.

Zhu has been at Google as the self-driving team’s principal software engineer for most of his career, after a brief internship at Intel in 2005. Ferguson, on the other hand, joined Google in 2011 as the principal computer-vision and machine-learning engineer on the self-driving project and started his career at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. (Carnegie Mellon, of course, has been at the forefront of autonomous car innovation and home to Uber’s research and development lab in the area.)

The company wouldn’t reveal too many additional details about what exactly they’re doing, but here’s what we know from Hanuschik:

  • The company’s plans involve creating a “level four,” which is geek for an entirely hands-free self-driving car.
  • But the car is only the first in a line of products Nuro plans to develop. We don’t know what else they’ll create, but it won’t be solely transportation-related.
  • That’s because Nuro’s team includes engineers with robotics, artificial intelligence and self-driving experience who had a hand in either developing or shipping an unusually wide range of products including Nexus cameras, Google Image search, the Mars Exploration and Curiosity Rovers, Google street view, Google’s self-driving cars and a number of surgical tools.
  • The company has raised funding, but it won’t say how much and from whom.
  • Nuro plans to launch its first product — a self-driving car — in two to four years.

Declining to give many specifics and operating in the shadows hasn’t hurt Nuro’s recruiting efforts, Hanuschik added, even though he won’t tell candidates much about the company’s plans until a second or third conversation.

“Most startups in AI and robotics have technical depth, but are often lacking in the other aspects of what it takes to build a company that ships complex electromechanical devices in a heavily regulated industry,” the company said in a statement. “In contrast, Nuro has a deep bench with experience in all facets of shipping complex products including design, business, regulatory and strategic product thinking.”

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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