Tesla is best known for producing electric cars, but they’re also coming to be known as a leader in autonomous car technology. Videos of their Autopilot software in action are all over the internet, but unfortunately, there have been problems. Several accidents and one fatality were reported when Autopilot was in use, and now Tesla is looking to an Apple engineer for help.
The company announced the hiring of Chris Lattner to lead its Autopilot software development. Lattner gave Apple developers the news in an online message on Tuesday morning saying he was leaving at the end of the month. He didn’t elaborate as to where he was going, but Tesla took care of that question in their announcement later the same day.
He will be vice president of Autopilot software when he makes the move. Although he announced his departure date from Apple, there is no start date with Tesla. It’s a significant change for Lattner after more than a decade with Apple and an equally big change for Tesla.
The Autopilot program didn’t have a full-time chief. Jinnah Hosein oversaw the project on only a temporary basis. Lattner brings a new level of expertise and a successful track record to the Autopilot challenge.
At Apple, he introduced the Swift programming language, which made it easier to develop apps for iOS. He also led the charge to make it open source marking a huge shift from Apple’s tight control of their technology.
Tesla’s Autopilot faces challenges from multiple sides. Drivers accuse the software of working incorrectly and driving cars off the road. Tesla asserts that drivers are not following directions. Meanwhile, safety agencies call out Tesla of choosing a name that implies the driver doesn’t have to pay attention, which confuses people.
Lattner will have to ensure the software is working correctly in every situation and overcome public and agency concerns. Although Tesla insists their software works just fine, they have released updates to refine what is technically a beta release. They have also repeatedly stated that this is a driver assistance feature, not a driver replacement feature.
Evidence shows that many of the drivers involved in accidents while using Autopilot did not have their hands on the wheel. That goes against the instructions for operation. It’s designed to help, not replace, a human at the wheel. One death was reported when Autopilot didn’t see a truck crossing the road, but otherwise, there have been only minor injuries, along with damage to the vehicles.