Tesla autopilot engineer joins Google's autonomous car team

Google -- or rather, Alphabet -- is spending a lot of time and money to develop self-driving technology, and it just added a big new name to its autonomous vehicle team. 

Stephen Lam/Reuters/File
The new Google at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Google -- or rather, Alphabet -- is spending a lot of time and money to develop self-driving technology, even though rumors suggest  that it has no plans to sell cars. Now, the company has added a new face to its autonomous vehicle team, and he arrives with quite an impressive resume.

His name is Robert Rose, and his most recent stint was at Tesla Motors. Though only there six months, Rose was hired by Tesla to perfect its recently launchedAutopilot software.

Rose also spent the better part of six years working at another Elon Musk endeavor, SpaceX. Hired as one of the company's many software engineers, after two years on the job, he landed the title of "Director of Flight Software".

Prior gigs included work for HP, Sony, and Vicarious, the latter of which is focused on "machine learning software", also known as artificial intelligence. Translation: the guy has spent a lot of time writing code that teaches computers to think.

So, what's the big deal? Big companies poach top talent from their competitorsall the time. Just a few months ago, Apple was accused of luring battery engineers to its own, top-secret autonomous car project.

What's important here is the players involved and the moment in automotive history in which we find ourselves. Specifically:

  • In the field of autonomous vehicles, Rose is a very big name. Is he the only software engineer on LinkedIn? Not even close. But he's the only one who's been in charge of developing semi-autonomous car software that's actually rolled out to the public. You could argue that the men and women who've created software for autonomous braking, lane-assist, and other features have similar cred, but Tesla's hands-off-the-wheel (but not really) Autopilot is a step beyond those programs.
  • Rose's hiring shows just how serious Google is about self-driving technology. Google's autonomous car project has been putt-putting alongfor six years. The company could've continued at its current pace, licensing its self-driving technology -- or potentially selling autonomous cars -- around 2020, when many other automakers will do the same. But bringing Rose onboard suggests that Google wants to get far, far ahead of the crowd.
  • Rose's hiring also suggests where real innovation is happening in the autonomous car world. Established engineers like Rose can pretty much write their own tickets. They typically go where the work is most challenging and rewarding. Given the hirings we've seen over the past year, Tesla, Google, and Apple seem to be setting the pace for autonomous cars -- which raises the question of how automakers like Nissan, Toyota, and Ford plan to catch up. Based on one particular tweet from Musk, they could be facing quite an uphill climb:

Game on, folks.

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