TodayApril 15, 2022

Chris Urmson out of Google Cars

I have been interviewing Urmson since his DARPA days, his faculty time as Director of Technology at Carnegie Mellon, and from the beginning of his time at Google cars. Urmson is passionate about robots and technology. When I talked to him as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon, we spoke of the robots in Afghanistan and Iraq. We talked about what it was like to be part of the cutting edge of brilliance, along with people like Sebastian Thrun, that was creating our future. His Dad talked to me about the first science project Chris did, the gravitational pull of a ball bearing from four feet. Another science project was a computer project on life cycles.

Urmson thinks differently; At the 2013 Robo Business Symposium he talked about autonomous vehicle driving, “we’re really not trying to emulate human behavior or human thinking. If you’re on the road, you want the other cars to behave like other vehicles.” When asked what Urmson’s kids thought of autonomous driving, he was succinct, “They don’t see any difference. They get in the car, and someone else is already driving.”

It doesn’t surprise me that Urmson quit Google cars. From everything I can tell, Urmson put everything he had into the biggest science project of his life, but at some point, that science project started acting like a car company.

In Urmson’s farewell letter to Google he says, “If I can find another project that turns into an obsession and becomes something more, I will consider myself twice lucky.” So will we Chris. So will we.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.