Tesla's autopilot software head quits in less than six months

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UPDATED: 6/21/17 7:08 am ET – adds details

Tesla Inc. said the head of its autopilot software, Chris Lattner, left the company in less than six months since joining the electric carmaker.

“Chris just wasn’t the right fit for Tesla, and we’ve decided to make a change,” a Tesla spokeswoman told Reuters in an email on Tuesday.

“Turns out that Tesla isn’t a good fit for me after all,” Lattner, who worked at Apple Inc. for more than a decade before joining Tesla in January, tweeted. “I’m interested to hear about interesting roles for a seasoned engineering leader!”

Tesla said it hired Andrej Karpathy as director of artificial intelligence and Tesla Vision team, the spokeswoman said.

Karpathy, who most recently worked as a research scientist at OpenAI, will directly report to CEO Elon Musk.

Karpathy will work closely with Jim Keller, who now has overall responsibility for autopilot hardware and software, she added.

Electrek.co website earlier reported Lattner’s exit.

Months of turnover

Tesla’s autopilot program has struggled with turnover and the company parted ways with Mobileye, a Jerusalem-based provider of imaging sensing technology, last summer.

As interest in self-driving technology has exploded, a fierce war for engineering talent has erupted in Silicon Valley. More than 30 companies, from established automakers to little-known startups, have received permits to test their self-driving cars from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Autopilot is Tesla’s suite of driver-assistance technology, and the features are continuously improved via over-the-air software updates. Tesla’s website stresses that all cars now being made at the company’s factory in Fremont, Calif., “have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”

But flipping that switch on the $ 3,000 option will require extensive software validation and regulatory approval. Musk has vowed to demonstrate a fully autonomous Los Angeles-to-New-York cross-country trip by the end of this year.

Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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