Briefing: Tesla’s top Autopilot engineer departs, raising doubts about robo-taxis

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Tesla loses key Autopilot engineer to self-driving truck start-up Embark – CNBC

What happened: Zeljko Popovic, Tesla’s Autopilot team lead, has stepped down and will join Embark, a self-driving truck startup in San Francisco. Popovic reportedly built and managed the perception team for the EV giant’s suite of advanced driver-assistance features, leading the development of highly accurate US highway maps for Tesla vehicles. He also created a set of perception software solutions that collect data from sensors and radars which offers a simulated “view” of the surroundings for the vehicles. Embark confirmed the hire, according to the CNBC report.

Why its important: The departure comes just two months after Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk said it will run 1 million robo-taxis on the road next year. Wall Street believes the technology is far from ready, and that it pits Tesla against Nvidia in hardware, Google in software, and current ride-hailing giants. The EV maker has missed some of its business goals over the last two years, including a much-delayed release of its first all-electric SUV Model X. Chinese AV players are also piling into the driverless taxi services to fight for a share of the potentially profitable robotaxi market. Baidu said it will launch a fleet of 100 autonomous vehicles, including taxis and buses, by year-end in Changsha, the capital of southern Hunan province. Pony.AI plans to test run 200 driverless vehicles in the next three years in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong province.