Tesla’s user interface is quite unique in the auto industry. Most of the controls are activated through the 17-in touchscreen, which as often been compared to an iPad, so it wasn’t too surprising when Tesla hired a senior designer from Apple to lead its user interface design.
Brennan Boblett was working on the design team of the iTunes Store when he joined Tesla back in 2010 to “create the most visually stunning and exciting large screen interface the automotive world has ever seen”, as he described at the time.
He worked under Tesla’s Chief Designer, Franz von Holzhausen, but as the company grew, he was quickly promoted and ended up managing both the UI and UX teams in 2012. Boblett stayed with Tesla for over 5 years and led the user experience development of the Model S, Model X and even the early work of the Model 3.
We reported that he was among the several Tesla executives, engineers and designers who left the automaker last year to join Faraday Future (FF), a competing electric vehicle startup. Boblett held a similar role at FF, but it didn’t last long. Electrek has learned that the veteran designer left the startup earlier this month to join Uber on a “stealth” project.
Interestingly, Boblett is not the first Tesla designer to join the ride-sharing company to work on a secret project. Last year, we reported on Richard Donnelly, veteran automotive designer who for the past few years had worked on “classified concepts” for Tesla. He joined Uber last December and also listed his project as ‘Stealth’.
While we can’t confirm the nature of Uber’s project operating under stealth mode, we know that Donnelly went to Pittsburgh to work on it.
Pittsburgh is home to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, where the company develops its own self-driving car technology. The team controversially came out of the Carnegie Mellon program which Uber had sponsored. They recently started road testings the first prototypes:
The company has been using hybrid Ford Fusion vehicles for its prototypes, but several recent reports also suggest that the company might be looking to other automakers to buy a fleet of self-driving cars.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick reportedly approached Daimler for a massive order of 100,000 autonomous Mercedes S-Class sedans. It wasn’t the first report of Kalanick talking about potential giant orders for automakers.
Last year, famous Silicon Valley venture capitalist and early Tesla investor Steve Juvertson recalled a conversation he had with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick:
Travis recently told me that in 2020, if Telsas are autonomous, he’d want to buy all of them. He said all 500,000 of estimated 2020 production, I’d want them all, but he couldn’t get a return call from Elon.
It’s clear that Uber wants to be among the firsts to introduce self-driving technology to a ride-sharing fleet, what is less clear is if the company plans to do it with its own vehicles or with custom-built cars from a third-party automakers.
The user experience remains an important aspect regardless of the approach to bring a self-driving vehicle to market. If the vehicle can fully drive itself, it opens the door to an entirely new car experience.
When Boblett was still at Tesla, he briefly worked on a confidential project at Netflix according to his LinkedIn profile. Who doesn’t want to binge watch the latest season of their favorite show on Netflix while in traffic?