Tesla bulks up on IT talent for 'car of the future' fight

January 13, 2016 by Luc Olinga
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, pictured on September 29, 2015, is rapidly staffing up with the best talent he can find - computer programm
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, pictured on September 29, 2015, is rapidly staffing up with the best talent he can find - computer programmers

Tesla's swift rise to both create and dominate the luxury all-electric car market has stunned Detroit.

To hold that lead to the next plateau—the self-driving, mass-market electric widely seen as the future of the auto industry—founder Elon Musk is rapidly staffing up with the best talent he can find: computer programmers.

Rather than look to Detroit for help to build his cars, Musk's 12 year old company is focused on Silicon Valley to recruit some 1,600 for the next stage.

They are to help develop Autopilot, Tesla's autonomous car IT system, with capabilities like the Summon function announced this week that can allow Tesla owners to call the car from the garage to their side at will, like a pet.

In a sign of his determination to beat Detroit at its own game, last November Musk used Twitter to get his message out.

"We are looking for hardcore software engineers. No prior experience with cars required," he said, adding "Should mention that I will be interviewing people personally and Autopilot reports directly to me. This is a super high priority."

Autopilot is crucial if Tesla aims to have a fully self-driving car by 2018, and increase production 10-fold to 500,000 cars a year by 2020.

Graphic showing the sensors and features needed for self-driving cars
Graphic showing the sensors and features needed for self-driving cars. 180 x 102 mm

Ramping up production to that level, supported by Tesla's own battery plant under construction in Nevada, is crucial to lowering the price of its cars to a more affordable level, perhaps $35,000, for the Tesla Model 3 electric sedan planned for 2017—around a third of today's price tag.

Such promises have kept financiers and investors still firmly behind Tesla, even though the Palo Alto, California company has continued to lose money while the big carmakers in Detroit rack up profits on the booming US auto market.

Tough competition

If it meets its goals, Tesla could remain a player in the industry. But it is surrounded by likewise eager competitors. All of the large Asian, European and US automakers are ramping up their work on electric, driver-less cars.

Crossing into the field with their substantial resources and tech capabilities are Internet giants like Google, Apple, and Uber.

Also crowding into the race are Tesla-wannabes: startups like Chinese-backed Faraday Future, which unveiled its own Batmobile-looking electric in Las Vegas last week, Karma Automotive, Atieva and NexTex.

All of them appear to agree that the future of the industry is in electric cars that can drive themselves. And they are all battling for the best brainpower Silicon Valley has to offer.

The Tesla Model X is presented during a launch event in Femont, California on September 29, 2015
The Tesla Model X is presented during a launch event in Femont, California on September 29, 2015

Can Tesla still lead?

Tesla has a march on the competition; the question is whether it can hold on.

Its Model S and new Model X SUV both have Autopilot capabilities which allow hands-off driving in some situations, and it promises incremental expansions of those capabilities.

But rivals loom in the all-electric field that will test Tesla even before autonomous driving gains traction on the roads. Audi's Q6 e-Tron promises a 500 kilometer (300 mile) range without charging by 2018, 50 percent more than Tesla's cars currently.

Mercedes-Benz has its GLE hybrid and BMW the X5. Porsche is putting $1 billion into its "Mission E" electric car and Aston Martin has an based on its DBX concept targeted for 2019.

"This is going to be very tough for Tesla," said Jessica Caldwell, an industry analyst at Edmunds.com.

"Porsche is an established name. They have a lot of marketing money, they have a lot of credibility, they have a strong dealer network... You can say the same for Audi."

At the more affordable end, General Motors is rushing to market the Chevrolet Bolt, to arrive next year as a challenger to Tesla's Model 3. In the same price range, too, there is already BMW's mini-electric i3.

Karl Brauer, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says Tesla "has the cachet, they have the prestige the competition doesn't have. Tesla is the Apple of the automotive industry."

Even so, he warned, to hold its lead, Tesla needs to keep an eye on the calendar as well as innovate. The new Model X was around two years late on its original timeline.

But former GM executive Bob Lutz thinks Tesla, as it bleeds money, is a poor bet to win the race for the car of the future.

"Tesla is still doomed," he said. "Whatever uniqueness they have it's disappearing... They have to learn how to make money like other car companies."

Explore further: Tesla makes 1st acquisition, adds tooling company

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axemaster
4.7 / 5 (6) Jan 13, 2016
This really drives home for me the fact that the rest of the industry is just stupid as hell. What did they think was going to happen? Move over and make way for the 21st century, idiots.
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (8) Jan 13, 2016
It's really an exhibit piece how competition does not necessarily drive best innovation. The big automakers were so stuck in their ways (and so satisfied with themselves and their cash cows) that they got completely blindsided by this and are now scrambling to throw any old junk together and make it seem new.

Well, Tesla's got quite a head start and is making a name for itself in the EV world (something none of the others have even begun to do with their half-hearted attempts). And I think they are going to be showing the old dogs a trick or two in the future.

Will consumers be buying from a company that knows nothing about EVs? Or rather from a company that already has quite a track record? This will be interesting to observe.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2016
I'm just curious as to why a modern and innovative car company wasn't working on this back when Google started working on it (3 years ago or so?).
I foresee a world where Google is the 3rd party source for self driven auto software...
Milou
5 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2016
"...But former GM executive Bob Lutz thinks Tesla, as it bleeds money, is a poor bet to win the race for the car of the future.

"Tesla is still doomed," he said. "Whatever uniqueness they have it's disappearing... They have to learn how to make money like other car companies."."

That Lutz is really "Klutz". He is so old fashion dinosaurs have more brain than him.
betterexists
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2016
Instead, nice to have own drone and fly like a bird!
Only problem is with falling down & breaking the bones.
1 is Possible; The other is UNAVOIDABLE.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2016
I will be interviewing people personally

That's too bad.
kochevnik
not rated yet Jan 14, 2016
Tesla drivers will have rough travels on USAs $4trillion rotting infrastructure. Musk should fire his programmers and instead bribe politicians for bailout money. That's how a real American car is sold
u2art
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2016
Man...this is pitiful. In the old days Physics meant something. Physics majors were the best thinkers. Now, they're clueless. None of you see the fatal flaw of today's autonomous vehicle technology. Let me show you how stupid you all are:

Last week at the CES, I had an opportunity to talk RADAR to several individuals. While waiting to get a coffee, I started a conversation with an older engineer from Brooklyn who was an innovator and who was much smarter than me. He was quite impressed though with the fact that I taught graduate engineering at Brooklyn Poly. Anyway, we both agreed quickly that if all cars on the streets had radar, cancer rates would increase dramatically, especially in the cities. The fact that it takes many years for cancer to develop will mean that by the time we figure out what the hell is going on, many people and children will be affected. All Teslas come with radar that is always on.
u2art
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2016
So, the single most important sensor used for autonomous vehicles is radar which sends directed pulses of microwaves ahead of the vehicles at about 70 GHz. These waves are much more intense than other sources of non-ionizing radiation such as cell phones. One manufacturer arms all of his cars with radar that is always on. If every car on the road had radar that is always on, our streets would be supersaturated with powerful microwaves, easily surpassing the limits set by organizations such as OSHA or the FCC or even the U.S. Army. Now these are limits set for occupational exposure, not for kids.

In other words, if Mr. Musk had his way, we would all be living next to that radar station or communications tower, and believe me, all these people who research this stuff would never buy a home next to high voltage lines, let alone a communications tower.
u2art
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2016
There was another individual that I talked to at the CES who was definitely an expert in radar design. Again, we both quickly agreed that the police is rapidly replacing radar guns with lidar (Laser) speed guns due to the high incidence of skin cancer rates among officers who use radar on a regular basis. My new friend also did not even want to think about the consequences on the general public if all cars had radar that was always on. I saw one prototype at the CES with NO FEWER THAN FIVE RADAR MICROWAVE GENERATORS.
u2art
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2016
The primary sensor for autonomous driving is radar. If you take radar away, autonomous driving will not be possible based on today's technology. Somehow, the automobile manufacturers have brainwashed themselves and others into thinking that if they can prevent half of driving fatalities with autonomous vehicles and radar then this would justify any ill effects of radar. It is important to note that more than half of driving fatalities are due to substance abuse and distracted driving. There are better ways of saving 20,000 lives a year by preventing drunk and distracted driving than by giving cancer to millions as a consequence of supersaturating our streets with microwaves. You don't use chemo on a small infection, and yet the auto industry thinks that will be cool. Also, it is obvious that the safety data for autonomous vehicles will be falsified by the policy makers. They are already falsifying health safety data for their BEV experiment on children....AKA Tesla.
u2art
1 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2016
What did you think would happen if you have children sit on top of electric motors more powerful than 400 swimming pool pumps??? Oh...wait...you're all physics master debaters...you're gonna lecture me about Faraday cages now. Before you do, use Wikipedia to refresh those gaming brains of yours about Faraday cages. So you think Musk uses many layers of pure iron (you'll need an equivalent of a 700 pound plate) to shield the kids in the cars he sells? Mu-metal is less effective.
KBK
not rated yet Jan 17, 2016
"...But former GM executive Bob Lutz thinks Tesla, as it bleeds money, is a poor bet to win the race for the car of the future.

"Tesla is still doomed," he said. "Whatever uniqueness they have it's disappearing... They have to learn how to make money like other car companies."."

That Lutz is really "Klutz". He is so old fashion dinosaurs have more brain than him.


GM has never made money. it is the worst offender in the entire record of the auto industry for eating money and energy. It is a complete disaster of a corporate profit oriented clusterfuck. It is a paper game playing nightmare for investors. Junk status.
KBK
not rated yet Jan 17, 2016
Meanwhile, the societal control lever of the oligarchy, commonly known as the oil industry, does what it can to try and crash economies, like the dog in the manger that they are.

They destroy the oil driven economies, in part of a complex war instigating, strife/fire starting, and papered financial lever game.... at the same time they try to destroy and delay the attempt to move to alternative technologies. To try and maintain this centralized power game. (It's a multi faceted infighting hydra, but it does indeed exist)

World, continent, and country wrecking power games have existed for the last 10,000 years of humanity's history, and those structures, methods, and groups who commit to such viciousness and brutality are still alive and well today.

As long as the parasites remain out of public sight, the will of the group to rid themselves of such insanity will forever remain confused and ineffective.

In reality, you don't have any other problems. just this one.

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