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Tesla restructures Autopilot software team, Elon takes the reins

Tesla is again restructuring its Autopilot software team, according to sources talking to Electrek.

CEO Elon Musk is taking the reins with now even more people reporting directly to him and some senior staff being let go while others being promoted.

In general, Tesla is known for having a high turnover rate, but it has been particularly true in the automaker’s Autopilot team.

The team went through several different leaders over the last few years.

In 2016, Autopilot program Director Sterling Anderson left to create his own startup in the field of automated driving.

Chris Lattner, a respected software developer behind Apple’s programing language, was hired to lead the Autopilot’s software team, but he only lasted about 6 months at Tesla.

Last year, Tesla ended up hiring Stuart Bowers from Snap as the new Vice President of Autopilot software.

During that time, many other executives on the team ended up leaving as Tesla increasingly pushed for difficult timelines on driver assist features to lead to a fully autonomous driving system.

Over the last year, things appeared to have stabilized with Bowers in charge of the software and Andrej Karpathy as the head of AI and Autopilot Vision.

They both gave presentations about Tesla’s progress in developing a full self-driving system during the automaker’s Investor Autonomy Day last month, but not everything went according to plan.

Leading up to the event and during the following days, Tesla fired several people in the Autopilot teams, according to people familiar with the matter.

A few weeks later, it has now led to a restructuring of the Autopilot software team.

According to people familiar with the matter talking to Electrek, Bowers saw several of his responsibilities being removed and people under him have been promoted and are now going to report directly to Musk.

Amongst the people being promoted, Milan Kovac, a software engineer who held several positions on Tesla’s Autopilot team over the last 3 years, has been promoted to Director of Autopilot Software Engineering at Tesla.

Several other senior Autopilot engineers have been let go and others promoted as part of this restructuring. We will update as more information becomes available.

We contacted Tesla for a comment about the restructuring and we will update if we get an answer.

Electrek’s Take

The turnover rate in the autonomous driving space is pretty high in general. The space is booming right now and many companies are competing for talent with experience in the field, which results in many engineers going from one company to another.

But when you factor in the fact that working for Elon Musk is extremely difficult and Tesla has been pushing some extremely aggressive timelines for Autopilot, it looks like Tesla’s Autopilot program is suffering from an even more chaotic turnover.

On top of the three Autopilot heads mentioned above, Elon also brought in Robert Rose and Jinnah Hosein, two top software engineers formerly from SpaceX, to lead the Autopilot program between the tenures of the other Autopilot leaders.

Several senior Autopilot engineers have also left the team and are now leading self-driving programs at other companies, like Sameer Qureshi at Lyft and Jamie Carlson at Nio.

Tesla is even suing Xpeng, an EV startup that hired several former Tesla Autopilot team members, for allegedly stealing the Autopilot source code.

The situation is worrying to a degree, but it’s not all doom and gloom. The team still have many talented engineers working on Autopilot and they keep delivering more advanced features.

But will they deliver full self-driving capability on Elon’s timeline? Unlikely in my opinion, but I’d like to be proven wrong.

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