Tesla’s Autopilot Head Departs With Hiring of Apple Engineer

  • Sterling Anderson leaves post managing driver-assist system
  • Chris Lattner, who led Apple’s Swift development, joins Tesla

Race To Build Self-Driving Cars Accelerates

Tesla Motors Inc.’s head of Autopilot, the driver-assist system packaged with its Model S and Model X electric cars, has left the company as a top engineer from Apple Inc. joins as chief of software.

Sterling Anderson, director of Autopilot programs since November 2015, departed Palo Alto, California-based Tesla in December, his LinkedIn page shows. Chris Lattner, who led the 2014 introduction of Apple’s Swift programming language for apps on its devices, has been named vice president of Autopilot software, according to a Tesla blog post.

“Chris’s reputation for engineering excellence is well known,” Tesla said in the post, which doesn’t mention Anderson. “We are very excited that Chris is joining Tesla to lead our Autopilot engineering team and accelerate the future of autonomous driving.”

Anderson didn’t respond to a request for comment after Bloomberg News reported Tuesday on his departure from Tesla. “You ain’t seen nothing yet...” he wrote in a tweet.

Tesla fell 0.9 percent to $227.79 as of 10:24 a.m. Wednesday in New York trading. The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.1 percent.

Hardware Shift

The management change comes as Tesla shifts to equipping each of its electric cars with hardware the company says will be capable of delivering full self-driving features, without giving a timeline. Apple meanwhile has retrenched with regards to cars, deciding not to build its own own autonomous vehicles, according to people familiar with the matter.

Tesla’s Autopilot system has been available on all cars built since October 2014. The company recently upgraded its hardware to include eight cameras and a dozen sensors. While drivers aren’t able to let go of the steering wheel, that’s a goal after a series of software refinements. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has said he plans to demonstrate a Los Angeles-to-New York car trip “without the need for a single touch” by the end of 2017.

Automakers including BMW AG and Ford Motor Co. are taking slower approaches to self-driving vehicles, beginning by offering semi-autonomous driving systems as optional equipment and generally ruling out full self-driving capability until sometime after 2020.

Tesla previously has hired several high-level employees from Apple, including Doug Field, Tesla’s senior vice president for engineering, and Cindy Nicola, vice president of global recruiting.

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