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Tesla’s VP of Autopilot and chip guru Jim Keller is leaving, another former Apple chip designer is tapped

Legendary chip architect Jim Keller has seen an increasingly important role at Tesla since he joined the company in 2015.

He most recently took over the responsibilities of the Autopilot program after Chris Lattner left and Tesla went in another direction by hiring AI expert Andrej Karpathy to oversee computer vision and AI.

Now we learn that today was Keller’s last day at Tesla as the Autopilot team sees yet another leadership change.

We first exclusively reported on Tesla quietly hiring Keller from AMD back in 2016 and we were fairly excited by the implications of Tesla hiring such an important chip architect.

At the time, we speculated that Tesla could be looking into making its own silicon at some point – speculation that was further reinforced after Keller’s hiring was followed by a team of chip architects and executives from AMD also joining Tesla.

Finally, our suspicions were confirmed two years later when Elon Musk confirmed that Tesla is working on its own new AI chip.

Keller was leading the program, along with several other hardware responsibilities at the automaker.

We learned today that he was leaving to go back to solely developing microprocessors at a chipmaker – Intel, which has its own autonomous driving business after picking up MobileEye. .

Tesla confirmed the news and a spokesperson commented:

“Today is Jim Keller’s last day at Tesla, where he has overseen low-voltage hardware, Autopilot software and infotainment. Prior to joining Tesla, Jim’s core passion was microprocessor engineering and he’s now joining a company where he’ll be able to once again focus on this exclusively. We appreciate his contributions to Tesla and wish him the best.”

A source says that the chipmaker in question is Intel. Keller previously worked at AMD and Apple’s PA Semi.

Tesla confirmed that Pete Bannon, a former colleague of Keller at Apple’s PA Semi who was among many chip architects that Tesla hired after Keller, is taking over the Autopilot hardware team. He was responsible for later Apple processors ranging from A5-A9.

Meanwhile Karpathy’s responsibilities will extend to include all Autopilot software.

A spokesperson elaborated:

“Pete Bannon, who has been at Tesla for over two years, will now lead Autopilot hardware. Pete has been building processors since 1984, co-led the development of Apple’s A5 chip and then continued development through to the A9 chip. Prior to Apple, Pete was the VP of architecture and verification at PA Semi. Andrej Karpathy, Tesla’s Director of AI and Autopilot Vision, will now have overall responsibility for all Autopilot software.”

It’s the third major leadership shakeup with the Autopilot team in just over a year since before Lattner being replaced by Keller and Karpathy, Autopilot Program Director Sterling Anderson left to form his own self-driving car company.

While Keller is leaving, Tesla is reiterating its commitment to developing its own chips with the team that Keller helped put together.

A Tesla spokesperson added:

“Tesla is deeply committed to developing the most advanced silicon in the world and we plan to dramatically increase our investment in that area while building on the world-class leadership team we have in place.”

We previously reported on the team back in 2016 and Tesla has been adding engineers from other companies, like Nvidia, since then.

Electrek’s Take

That’s definitely a big loss for Tesla since Keller is one of the most respected chip architects in the business today.

But with this said, he probably laid some good foundations for the development of Tesla’s own AI chip and he also helped build a strong team of chip architects and other microprocessors experts to do the work.

Case in point: Pete Bannon, who also has some incredible credentials in the world of chip architectures and he is now taking over at Tesla.

And if you were excited about to possibility of silicon designed by Keller eventually powering your future self-driving car, it still might be a possibility considering Intel has been making some major investments to be to go to chipmaker for self-driving technology.

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