The head of Tesla’s artificial intelligence team and a key architect of the electric-car maker’s efforts to create self-driving technology said he’s leaving the company as the company’s Autopilot system comes under increased scrutiny from federal safety officials.
Andrej Karpathy, a Stanford University-trained computer scientist, announced his departure via Twitter on Wednesday without citing a reason for his decision. He joined the Austin-based company in June 2017 after previously working as a researcher at OpenAI, another Elon Musk-affiliated venture.
“It’s been a great pleasure to help Tesla towards its goals over the last 5 years and a difficult decision to part ways,” he wrote. “In that time, Autopilot graduated from lane keeping to city streets and I look forward to seeing the exceptionally strong Autopilot team continue that momentum.” Karpathy said he has “no concrete plans for what’s next.”
Musk wants Tesla to be a leader in fully autonomous driving, though its Autopilot driver-assist system and so-called Full-Self Driving upgrade fall short of that goal and have been implicated in several fatal accidents. This month, the National Highway Safety Administration began investigating a crash in Florida involving a Tesla Model S that slammed into a Walmart truck that wasn’t moving at the time. Two people in the Tesla were killed. While it’s not clear if the latest accident involved the use of Autopilot, the federal safety agency has opened 30 previous reviews of Tesla crashes involving the tech feature, according to media reports.
Karpathy’s role as senior director of AI included leading the computer vision team for Autopilot, the camera-based system that helps see and identify a vehicle’s surroundings. Unlike autonomous driving companies such as Alphabet’s Waymo, General Motors-backed Cruise and Amazon’s Zoox, Tesla doesn’t use additional sensors such as laser lidar units that provide detailed 3D images that enhance what cameras see.
Musk, a long-time critic of lidar, has not publicly identified Karpathy’s replacement. “Thanks for everything you have done for Tesla!” Musk tweeted. “It has been an honor working with you.”
Musk announced in March that Karpathy would be on a four-month sabbatical, without providing any additional details. At the time, Karpathy said he wanted to rest and travel.
Tesla didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on Karpathy’s departure and who will take over for him.
His departure also coincides with Tesla’s move to close an office in San Mateo, California, and fire about 230 employees, many of whom were data annotation specialists assisting the Autopilot program. Musk has said Tesla is cutting staff across most operations ahead of an expected recession.
Shares of Tesla, which is to announce second-quarter results on July 18, were down 2% to $696.39 in Thursday morning Nasdaq trading.
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