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The chip guru who built Apple’s Ax microprocessors joins Tesla to lead the Autopilot Hardware Engineering team

Jim Keller Tesla

Electrek has learned that Tesla this month quietly hired high-profile microprocessor engineer Jim Keller as Vice President of Autopilot Hardware Engineering. Tesla today confirmed the news and sent us the following statement:

Jim Keller is joining Tesla as Vice President of Autopilot Hardware Engineering. Jim will bring together the best internal and external hardware technologies to develop the safest, most advanced autopilot systems in the world.

Keller left chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) late last year after leading the team developing the upcoming Zen processor architecture for the past three years. Before that he had a very high-profile role at Apple…

Keller first worked at AMD in the late 90’s when it was in fierce competition with Intel in the CPU market. He was a key player in the creation of the Athlon K7 architecture, as well as the lead architect of the company’s K8 architecture.

He left AMD in 1999, but came back in 2012 as ‘Chief Architect of Microprocessor Cores’ after a big role at Apple where he played a major role in developing the Cupertino company’s A4 and A5 processors, which powered most of Apple’s mobile devices from 2010 to 2012.

Keller was a director in the platform architecture group at Apple focusing on mobile products, where he architected several generations of mobile processors, including the chip families found in millions of Apple iPads, iPhones, iPods and Apple TVs. Prior to Apple, Keller was vice president of design for P.A. Semi, a fabless semiconductor design firm specializing in low-power mobile processors that was acquired by Apple in 2008.

During his early tenure at Apple and his most recent 3 years at AMD, Keller worked under Mark Papermaster who had the following to say about the engineer when hiring him at AMD:

“Jim is one of the most widely respected and sought-after innovators in the industry and a very strong addition to our engineering team. He has contributed to processing innovations that have delivered tremendous compute advances for millions of people all over the world, and we expect that his innovative spirit, low-power design expertise, creativity and drive for success will help us shape our future and fuel our growth.”

The role as Tesla describes it isn’t necessarily to focus on in-house microprocessors, although the company needs plenty of processing power for its  ‘Autopilot’ program. But Keller’s hardware engineering experience, especially his low-power design expertise as mentioned by Papermaster , undoubtedly represent valuable transferable skills useful for many of Tesla’s programs.

Tesla’s center stack is currently powered by Nvidia ARM CPUs.

Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the automaker was looking for “hardcore” engineers for its Autopilot team. In the few months since the release of the system via a software update last October, Tesla lost quite a few Autopilot engineers to other companies, including drone maker Skydio, aftermarket drive assist firm Cruise and Google.

Keller is joining several Apple alumni in Tesla’s senior engineering staff, including Doug Field, former VP of Mac Engineering at Apple and now VP of Engineering at Tesla, and Rich Heley, former Director of Alloy Engineering at Apple and now VP of Products at Tesla. Interestingly, Keller was rumored to have joined Samsung late last year.

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  1. Jeffree K Lassitter Jr - 7 years ago

    If Apple is working on a car project, then this loss to Tesla is a PR disaster for them. Apple is obviously not minding its talent store. Could Jony Ive be throwing his substantial critical weight around a tad too much?

  2. jekelr - 7 years ago

    If Apple is working on a car project, then this loss to Tesla is a PR disaster for them. Apple is apparently not minding its talent store sufficiently well. Could Jony Ive be throwing his substantial critical weight around a tad too much?

  3. rahulio (@rahulio) - 7 years ago

    Why does Tesla are about “low-power design expertise”. I think there are no power constraints in a Tesla. For the 17″ monitor, they seem to have ignored the goal of something that saved power.


Avatar for Seth Weintraub Seth Weintraub

Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites. Tesla Model 3, X and Chevy Bolt owner…5 ebikes and counting