Tesla hires former Apple, AMD chip guru to improve self-driving cars

Keller most recently work for AMD on its new chip architecture.

Tesla hires former Apple AMD chip guru to improve self-driving cars
Credit: Tesla

Tesla Motors has scored a coup, hiring top chip designer Jim Keller to help improve its self-driving autos. Keller will lead Tesla's Autopilot hardware engineering team, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will do chip design, according to electrek, which broke the news.

Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he was looking for "hardcore" engineers for its Autopilot team. And while he has several Apple alumni there, he's also lost a few people in the process.

Tesla's center stack uses Nvidia's Tegra CPUs, which combine an ARM core with its high-performance GPU technology. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Nvidia introduced Drive PX 2, a dual-processor system with two graphics cards which Nvidia boasted as having the "processing power of 150 MacBook Pros."

Self-driving cars are a work in progress for everyone, not just Tesla. While the advances are impressive compared to a decade ago, when DARPA had its Grand Challenge in Primm, Nevada, in 2005 (and I was there), the fact is self-driving cars are more of a menace than the humans behind the wheel, and that's saying something.

If anyone can do it, it's Keller. He's been a significant semiconductor engineer for more than two decades now. At AMD, he was involved in the creation of the Athlon architecture, the HyperTransport interface, and the first native x86 64-bit architecture, which resulted in the Athlon 64 processor.

He left AMD for Broadcom and then PA Semi, which Apple purchased. He was involved in the development of Apple's A4 and A5 SoCs introduced in the iPhone and iPad. He returned to AMD in 2012 to lead the development of the Zen microarchitecture, which is on pace for release later this year. AMD has pinned its hopes on Zen to pretty much save its skin, as its current microarchitecture barely competes with Intel's best.

The thing is Keller also has a track record for jumping ship once his project is done. He signs on with a firm, does a major project, and once it's complete, he bails. For whatever reason, he doesn't hang around to help continue development of a project. So if Tesla brings a self-driving car that's right out of science fiction to market, you can probably guess what will happen next.

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