Tesla’s top Autopilot exec leaves the automaker

Tesla's top Autopilot exec leaves the automaker

Tesla Inc.’s top artificial intelligence executive and a key figure behind its driver assistance system Autopilot is leaving the electric car maker after a months-long sabbatical.

Andrej Karpathy, who joined Tesla in 2017, announced his departure on Wednesday in a series of tweets. He was senior director of AI and led the Autopilot computer vision team that spent years trying to make the company’s cars drive autonomously.

“It has been a great pleasure to help Tesla achieve its goals for the past five years and splitting up has been a difficult decision,” Karpathy wrote. “During that time, Autopilot has graduated from lane keeping to city streets and I look forward to seeing the exceptionally strong Autopilot team continue that momentum.”

The departure adds to a long line of revenue on top of the Autopilot group, which is struggling to realize Elon Musk’s autonomous ambitions. The chief executive officer raised billions of dollars in 2019 after telling Wall Street that Tesla would have 1 million robotic axes on the road the following year. The shared network of self-driving cars Musk described still doesn’t exist, and the systems Tesla is marketing as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, or FSD, require fully observant drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.

The departure of Karpathy, 35, may reflect challenges Tesla faces with FSD and robotaxis, according to Dan Levy, a Credit Suisse analyst with the equivalent of a buy recommendation on the stock.

“We continue to view Tesla’s AV/robotaxi efforts as ‘show me,'” Levy wrote in a note to customers. Tesla shares fell 1.3 percent to $702.15 as of 6:30 a.m. Thursday, before the start of regular trading.

Musk announced that Karpathy was on a roughly four-month sabbatical in March, and Karpathy then tweeted that he was looking forward to returning to Tesla. After Karpathy wrote on Wednesday that he decided to leave the company, Musk replied with thanks and praise.

Karpathy said he had “no concrete plans” for his next act, but would revisit “longstanding passions around technical work in AI, open source and education”.

Autopilot is increasingly controlled by US regulators. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration escalated one of its investigations into whether the system is faulty and revealed it had assessed nearly 200 crashes involving vehicles using the technology. The NHTSA’s other failure probe relates to vehicles equipped with Autopilot features that brake suddenly at high speeds.

The change in Tesla’s leadership ranks also follows a move to scale back some of the Autopilot group. Last month, Tesla laid off about 200 data annotation workers and closed an office in San Mateo, California.

A year ago, Musk said responsibility for Autopilot was shared by Karpathy, Ashok Elluswamy and Milan Kovac, and described the group’s leadership as a “knights of the round table” structure.