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Key Tesla Autopilot engineering manager makes the jump to NEXTEV

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When we wrote our profile of Tesla’s team of “hardcore engineers” working on the Autopilot, we briefly mentioned Kurt Thywissen, an early member of the team and Senior Engineering Manager of UI & Autopilot Software. Thywissen was one of the software engineers working on the popular P2P client Kazaa who left to create Skype. He joined Tesla’s team in 2013 after leaving a director role at Skype.

Chinese-backed electric vehicle startups, like Faraday Future and Atieva, have been poaching an impressive number of employees from Tesla and they made engineers with EV or autonomous driving experience extremely in demand in Silicon Valley – with the help of other companies in the field like Apple, Bosch, Baidu, Google and more.

But now there’s a new thorn in the side of Tesla’s recruitment and retention effort, NEXTEV, and Thywissen is their latest hire.

Thywissen is joining NEXTEV has Senior Director of Human Machine Interaction. According to his LinkedIn profile, the engineer will be working with the startup’s ‘Digital Cockpit team’.

The interaction between human and machine in a vehicle is expected to become an important aspect of the upcoming transition to autonomous driving systems. One could argue that the user interface in cars will be more important than ever when both ‘human driving’ and ‘machine driving’ modes will be available in vehicles.

Automakers, like Nissan with its IDS concept and BMW with its NEXT100 concept, have both featured concepts for the transition between the two modes inside a vehicle:

Thywissen’s new employer, NEXTEV, is a young China-based company with an engineering facility in Silicon Valley. It came out of stealth mode just last year and has reportedly already raised close to $1 billion.

Just last month, the company announced having signed a contract with the Nanjing Municipal Government to build a 3 billion RMB ($465 million) electric vehicle factory.

The company is planning to use a similar strategy as Tesla and release increasingly cheaper vehicles starting with a supercar, which should be unveiled by the end of the year. Last year, they hired former Cisco and Motorola CTO, Padmasree Warrior, to lead the company’s US operations and earlier this year, Tesla’s long-time engineering program manager, Henry Wang, joined the startup in a similar role.

NEXTEV was founded William Li, the founder of Chinese website Bitauto, and it is heavily financed by investment funds Sequoia Capital and Tencent Holdings.

Interestingly, Tencent also backed another electric vehicle startup, Future Mobility Corp, which recently poached a number of executives from BMW’s EV division and Tesla.

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