Executive Spearheading Tesla’s Self-Driving Vehicles Abruptly Leaves Company

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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A former Apple executive who took over Tesla’s self-driving technology abruptly quit the electric automaker Tuesday, implying that the job was not what he had envisioned.

Tesla’s self-driving program is under pressure from CEO Elon Musk to demonstrate that a Tesla can create a fully automated feature before 2017 concludes. Tesla has been bombarded with accusations that its autopilot system might not be ready for primetime, as a slew of wrecks involving the feature have plagued the company.

“Turns out that Tesla isn’t a good fit for me after all,” Lattner wrote on Twitter Tuesday night. “I’m interested to hear about interesting roles for a seasoned engineering leader!” A Tesla spokesman told reporters something similar, adding that the company has “decided to make a change.”

Tesla owner Joshua Brown was killed last year after his Model S caromed into a tractor-trailer on the highway — he was using the autopilot feature when he crashed. Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the wreck, but eyewitness reports indicate Brown was watching a “Harry Potter” movie at the time of the accident.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation from earlier this year determined that the auto-feature was not the cause of the wreck. Yet analysts continue to criticize the feature, suggesting that its mere existence creates safety hazards.

“The expectation of Tesla is that the driver is alert and vigilant, ready to take over at a moment’s notice,” Ryan Eustice, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, told reporters in May. Drivers become bored and place too much trust in auto-driving features, he added.

Other analysts mirrored Eustice’s position.

Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told reporters at the time of Brown’s death that Tesla owners will likely have to decide between safety and convenience.

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