Tesla
Tesla

Leading U.S. electric car maker Tesla has lost its third Autopilot chief, Jim Keller, in less than two years, deepening the company’s Autopilot project crisis.

“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,” Tesla said in a statement this week. Tesla was bleeding talent from its Autopilot division. Former head of Tesla’s Autopilot department Sterling Anderson quit the job at the end of 2016. His replacement Chris Lattner, who previously created the Swift programming language at Apple company, only lasted six months before departing last June. Keller most recently took over the responsibilities of the Autopilot program after Lattner left, but is leaving Tesla as well. Tesla confirmed that Pete Bannon, a former colleague of Keller at Apple who was among many chip architects that Tesla hired after Keller, is taking over the Autopilot hardware team.

U.S. leading semiconductor chip maker Intel Corporation announced that it was hiring Keller as a senior vice president. Keller will “lead the company’s silicon engineering, which encompasses system-on-chip development and integration,” an Intel press release said. 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. However, Tesla Autopilot is struggling. Keller’s departure came just weeks after the death of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer whose Tesla Model X vehicle, which was on autopilot, slammed into a concrete lane divider in the city of Mountain View in California state. The car maker has since then gotten into public feuds with both Huang’s family and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal agency which is investigating the crash.

Tesla said Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash, but added that Huang was responsible for the crash, as he did not pay attention to multiple warnings issued by the car even though he was aware of the Autopilot’s imperfection. Tesla’s defense of the Autopilot’s capabilities has come under intense scrutiny in the investigation. Tesla has said all cars currently being made at its factory in Fremont, California, including the Model 3, have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability. However, the company is behind its production and distribution schedule of its more affordable sedan, the Model 3. It also recently lost its chief finance officer and chief sales officer.

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