If you had any doubts about the future of Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving-car technology, Elon Musk has put them to rest.
He took to Twitter last week to say he’s looking for serious coders, who don’t need to know anything about cars.
Tesla rolled out the first iteration of Autopilot in October, but then quickly limited its features once it became evident that some drivers were going to take risks the company didn’t want — like climbing into the back seat of a self-driving car.
But the fact that Tesla’s trying to reign in drivers doesn’t mean it’s backing off of the push toward a fully autonomous car. In the parlance of the industry, this is referred to as either Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy — the vehicle, for all practical purposes, drives itself with little or no human input.
To achieve that, Musk wants software engineers — “hardcore” software engineers, according to his tweet. These hires, who don’t have to know anything about cars but had better be able to write dazzling code, are going to have a tough taskmaster: Musk himself.
Should mention that I will be interviewing people personally and Autopilot reports directly to me. This is a super high priority.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2015
Tesla, a company that still considers itself of the tech world, already has a band of software engineers working on Autopilot.
But the job ad makes it clear that now that Autopilot — initially described as a step toward of self-driving technology — has taken the automotive world by storm, Musk is now in a deep think about the technology’s true potential. So he needs to acquire the technical expertise that Tesla requires for a genuine breakthrough. He wants the hardest of the hardcore.
“As we expand the features of Autopilot, we must reach out to the most innovative people around the world,” a Tesla spokesperson said in response to our inquiries.
To get from where we are now to Level 4 or 5 autonomy will require some breakthroughs. It goes without saying that Google has made astonishing progress with its Google Car, but that vehicle isn’t at all ready to be manufactured in significant numbers. It’s more of an adorable platform to provide a proof-of-concept.
Meanwhile, the rest of the auto industry is rolling out various semi-self-driving features at a nice clip.
However, according to some industry executives, full autonomy is so high-tech dependent — and expensive — that it could be a decade away.
General Motors’ product guru, Mark Reuss, for example likes to draw a simple graph explaining how full autonomy will happen. The major automakers will be able to gradually expand self-driving features across their fleets. But the smaller, newer players, lacking a lot of cars to test out technologies on, will have to innovate rapidly, going from rudimentary self-driving cars to full autonomy. It’s the slow ascent versus the hockey stick.
If that’s true, then Musk by his nature will want to find a faster, cheaper solution. He won’t want to wait around for the big jump that could be 10 years off.
He and his team are already pressing toward mass-market electric cars at a furious pace, aiming to have the Model 3 on the road by 2017. And of course with his other company, SpaceX, he’s driving down the cost of spaceflight.
Being a creature of Silicon Valley, he knows that a fast, cheap way to get there is through software. A smarter car will be able to drive itself sooner. And there are few executives in tech who are as hard-charging as Musk; he has a reputation for being able to achieve striking progress from his teams almost through force of will combined with a defiant intellect that thinks no worthy problem, regardless of how hard, should be unsolvable.
That said, even he may have been taken somewhat by surprise by how excited the debut of Autopilot got the world about self-driving cars.
So, if you’re a software engineer who thinks they have the right stuff, drop Musk a line.
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