clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

In the wake of a fatal crash, Tesla will quit using Mobileye's chips for Autopilot vision

The car company will likely work on its own image-recognition technology.

Latest Consumer Technology Products On Display At CES 2016 Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Weeks after a fatal Tesla accident involving the company’s semi-autonomous tech sparked probes from federal agencies, Tesla parted ways with Mobileye, the startup that supplies the chips that enable Teslas to recognize images and to work with the car’s Autopilot system.

This also means Telsa is likely working on its own chips to improve the semi-autonomous features.

Mobileye CTO Ammon Sashua made the announcement during a call discussing the company’s second-quarter financial results.

“We continue to support and maintain the current Tesla Autopilot product plans. This includes a significant upgrade of several functions that affect both the ability to respond to crash avoidance and to optimize auto-steering in the near term, without any hardware updates,” the company said in a statement. “Nevertheless, in our view, moving toward more advanced autonomy is a paradigm shift both in terms of function complexity and the need to ensure an extremely high level of safety. There is much at stake here, to Mobileye’s reputation and to the industry at large. Mobileye believes that achieving this objective requires partnerships that go beyond the typical OEM / supplier relationship, such as our recently announced collaboration with BMW and Intel. Mobileye will continue to pursue similar such relationships.”

In the hours after the announcement, Mobileye’s stock dropped more than 7 percent.

When asked why the two companies parted ways, Sashua pointed to the companies’ respective responses to the fatal accident. Mobileye’s technology is only capable of helping to avoid accidents with cars in front of it, not trucks crossing the highway laterally, as was the case in this accident.

“This incident involved a laterally crossing vehicle, which current-generation AEB systems are not designed to actuate upon,” the company wrote.

Tesla said Autopilot, which combines proprietary and third-party technology, is supposed to be able to recognize “any interruption of the ground plane in the path of the vehicle” but “the high, white side of the box truck, combined with a radar signature that would have looked very similar to an overhead sign, caused automatic braking not to fire.”

While it’s not clear which party ended the relationship, CEO George Hotz — whom Tesla CEO Elon Musk once challenged to build better software than Mobileye’s — said: “Without a doubt it’s Tesla who parted ways.”

Hotz, who also challenged Musk to a race of their respective semi-autonomous cars when his was done, said Mobileye isn’t innovative enough for Tesla.

“Their stated mission is to lower the safety rating of cars that don’t have their technology,” he told Recode. “So when you have a company like that versus a company like Tesla who actually wants to build incredible cars, there’s absolutely no reason Tesla needs Mobileye.”

It’s likely Tesla — which recently tapped former Advanced Micro Devices chip engineer Jim Keller to be its vice president of Autopilot — will begin working in-house on the technology for which it once depended on Mobileye. And according to Hotz, it won’t be hard.

“Tesla has a lot of trouble attracting machine-learning talent. They don’t have a cafeteria, for example. So people are going to Google and Apple,” he said. “But to be honest, the Mobileye system is so easy to reproduce; you don’t need the best talent. I did it in a couple of months. Our software can already do more than Mobileye’s.”

According to the company, Mobileye will continue to pursue partnerships like its recently announced deals with BMW and Intel to create autonomous cars. BMW has yet to ship any semi-autonomous tech. But Hotz says its proclivity for working with established players is exactly why he thinks Mobileye isn’t concerned with innovating.

“I met with some automakers and all they seemed to be about was their brand,” Hotz said. “They say, ‘Well, no people buy — insert crappy car Y here — because their parents had crappy car Y. That’s not what sells cars anymore. What sells cars really is the car experience. When Apple comes out with their car and even the Tesla Model 3, [automakers] will see they’re not in the same ballpark. And then a company like Mobileye wants to work with these established players.”

“It’s like you see the same thing in mapping — all the losers are trying to group up together,” he said.

Elon Musk talks SpaceX and autonomous cars

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.