The co-founder of Google X, the search giant’s experimental, moonshot-producing offshoot responsible for driverless cars and Google Glass, has stepped down to focus on his online education startup. Sebastian Thrun is CEO of Udacity, a Web-based school derived from his time teaching at Stanford University.
Thrun co-founded and runs Udacity, which has shifted from a degree-producing online college to offering vocational courses such as learning how to develop an Android app. He stepped down from his role as Google vice president and research fellow sometime in August, according to TechCrunch. Udacity just picked up $35 million in venture capital.
“While I am now just [an] advisor, my enthusiasm for Google[x] is as high as ever,” Thrun said in a note on his LinkedIn page. “The technology built in [x] is truly magical.”
Thrun and a group of his students at Stanford developed a turn-by-turn mapping service that became Google Maps’ Street View when the team was brought on by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. While at Google Inc., Thrun said he built a “factory for moonshots” that turned into the Google Glass computing headset, driverless cars and Project Loon, a series of hot-air balloons the search giant aims to turn into a way to bring the Internet to poor and remote areas of the world without it.
"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," Astro Teller, director of Google X since 2010, said in a statement. "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."
Both Udacity and Google are based in Mountain View, California. Udacity's first success was a popular course based on one Thrun had taught on artificial intelligence at Stanford, and it now offers what it calls “nanodegrees,” or small groups of courses on job-specific topics like Web development. Udacity was founded in 2012, and many of its courses are sponsored by companies like AT&T Inc. and Google.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Google X Director Astro Teller.