Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot chief, Jim Keller, has left the company, the latest in a rash of executive departures at the electric-car maker led by CEO Elon Musk.
Keller, who joined the auto maker two years ago and has a background in chip development, had his last day as a Tesla vice president April 24, the company said in a statement. He’s going back to semiconductor engineering, Tesla said.
The team running Autopilot — Tesla’s assisted-driving system — has experienced turnover amid a fierce war for the engineering talent needed to develop autonomous vehicles. Tesla has been forced to defend the Autopilot after a fatal crash of its Model X on a California highway last month that occurred while the driver had the system engaged.
The auto industry and its regulators are counting on assisted-driving technology to help reduce crashes that lead to tens of thousands of injuries and deaths in the United States every year. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Model X crash, and Tesla’s defense for the Autopilot’s capabilities has come under intense scrutiny.
Tesla’s approach with Autopilot has been to field a suite of driver-assistance features that are continuously improved via over-the-air software updates, building the system toward more advanced autonomous capabilities. Tesla has said that all cars now being made at its factory in Fremont, Calif., including the Model 3, have the hardware needed to one day be fully self-driving.
Tesla said that Pete Bannon, who has been at the company for more than two years, no will lead Autopilot hardware. Andrej Karpathy, Tesla’s director of AI and Autopilot Vision, will be responsible for Autopilot software.
Among executives exiting recently are Jon McNeill, the former global president of sales and service who left for Lyft Inc. in February. In March, Tesla confirmed that two of its top financial executives, Eric Branderiz and Susan Repo, had departed.
Keller, whose departure was earlier reported by Electrek, joined Tesla from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. in January 2016.
“Today is Jim Keller’s last day at Tesla, where he has overseen low-voltage hardware, Autopilot software and infotainment,” Tesla said in its statement late April 25. “Prior to joining Tesla, Jim’s core passion was microprocessor engineering, and he’s now joining a company where he’ll be able to once again focus on this exclusively. We appreciate his contributions to Tesla and wish him the best.”