Sebastian Thrun has left the building — the Google X building, that is. The founder of search giant Google’s factory to develop and build “moonshot” technologies, who launched the company’s driverless car project and was the project lead on Google Glass, is no longer a VP and Fellow at the company.
Thrun, who also co-founded and currently runs online education startup Udacity, has an update to his LinkedIn profile (flagged to us by a sharp-eyed, anonymous reader), which notes that he left his roles as Google VP and Fellow as of August 2014. That same note says that he retains an advisory connection. “While I am now just an advisor, my enthusiasm for Google[x] is as high as ever,” the note says.
The news has also been confirmed to us now also by a spokesperson at Google:
As the co-founder of Google[x] and our self-driving car project, Sebastian made huge advances in computer science and robotics that have paved the way for autonomous driving technology. In his role as an advisor to Google[x] over the past couple years, he has provided invaluable inspiration and perspective to a variety of projects. In Udacity, Sebastian has his own more-than-a-full-time-job moonshot to take, and we wish him well.
It’s not clear if this is a between-the-lines message that Thrun wanted to dedicate more time to his education work but that has been the message elsewhere for some time already. Udacity was founded in 2011, and the other two co-founders are not with the company anymore. Mike Sokolsky, who had been the CTO, left in October 2013, and David Stavens left in April 2013.
From what I understand, Thrun has been in more of an advisory role at Google for a while now, with Chris Urmson leading the self-driving car project, and Ivy Ross leading Glass. Astro Teller continues to run Google X.
Over the years, Thrun has been an exemplar of the place where science and entrepreneurship converge. He first joined Google in 2007, while a professor of computer science and engineering at Stanford University and having already made big inroads (pardon the pun) into robotics and cars. He left his full-time role there in 2011 when he became a Google Fellow, although remains, even now, a part-time research professor affiliated with the university.
Google X, the lab he founded, is a semi-stealth project that Thrun himself describes as a “factory for moonshots… Google’s hardware innovation shop.” In addition to the cars and Google Glass, other Google X efforts that have been made public include Project Loon for internet access, medical contact lenses, indoor localization, and Flux. Google Brain, Google’s machine learning and AI project that has contributed to different efforts at the company, also was developed at Google X.
We have reached out also to Thrun and will update as we learn more.