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Tesla’s new Autopilot boss wants to ‘accelerate the path to cars being appliances’

Ex-Apple engineer Chris Lattner says he’s an “un-car person.”

Tesla Offers Charging Stations On German Highways Sean Gallup / Getty Images

As self-driving electric cars evolve, one of the most interesting changes to watch will be how cars are used, owned and treated. So it’s useful to hear how the people building autonomous-driving technologies think about things.

Chris Lattner, who is joining Tesla soon as its new VP of Autopilot software — that’s the software that allows Tesla cars to drive themselves — made his thoughts and ambitions clear in a recent interview.

“I want to accelerate the path to cars being appliances that solve people’s problems,” he told the hosts of Accidental Tech Podcast, a popular and influential show that mostly focuses on Apple and related technology topics.

Lattner is joining Tesla after 11 years at Apple, where he led several software projects and most recently created Swift, the company’s newish, from-scratch programming language. His comments about self-driving cars begin around 2 hours, 11 minutes and 29 seconds into the episode.

“I obviously need a car,” he said. “Cars are really important. But I’m what I consider to be an ‘un-car person’.”

“I’m personally not the kind of guy who loves doing oil changes and fiddling around with them. I just want something that is reliable, that works, ideally drives me everywhere I want to go, and I don’t have to think about it,” he said. “It’s solving my problems, it’s not something I have to care for, feed and maintain. That’s the way I look at cars.”

So why did he want to join Tesla and work on cars?

“I admit that I never considered going to work at a car company before,” Lattner said.

“But that’s because I always considered car companies to be not in need of the kinds of skills that I bring. But Autopilot, I think, is a really exciting and really big problem and it kind of fits with my desire to solve nearly impossible problems and take on new things, and so I’m really excited about it.”

Will we see truly self-driving cars within a decade?

“Yeah, I think that it’s very possible within the next decade, and hopefully that’s a long view,” he said.

“But keep in mind the goal is to drive better than a human, and significantly better than a human. I think one of the things that gives me confidence in this is that it’s not an even playing field, because the autonomous cars have more sensors than humans do. They have a radar, for example. And that means that they’re capable of doing things that humans just physically can’t.”

“There’s a huge technology problem, there’s huge software problems — this is not an overnight kind of thing that you wake up and solve immediately.”

But Lattner — who comes across in the interview as empathetic, pragmatic and obviously very technically skilled — said, “I have confidence that it’ll be solved, certainly within a decade.”


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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