Don’t think of self-driving cars as autonomous. Think of them as horizontal elevators. No one thinks it’s strange to get on a modern elevator, press a button, and be whisked to the floor of your choosing. Only if you are 85 years old and remember the days of elevator operators do you think self service elevators are at all unusual.
Autonomous cars can reduce congestion in world cities, eliminate most motor vehicle injuries and deaths, and free us up to play Tetris on our touchscreens as over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go. They also may prove to be hugely profitable for the companies that operate them.
No company on Earth has a more single-minded emphasis on self-driving cars than Tesla. You might think it has the best and brightest minds in the world of robotic transportation on its payroll, but apparently there are other companies out there who have people with equal or greater skill. Tesla has just acquired one of them, a company known as DeepScale.
According to CNBC, DeepScale was founded by Forrest Iandola, who obtained a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley, “where he worked on deep neural nets that could work on mobile devices with relatively small amounts of memory.” DeepScale’s technology is designed to help automakers use low wattage processors — the kinds that are now standard in most cars — to power very accurate computer vision. These processors work with sensors, mapping, planning, and control systems to allow cars to make sense of what’s going on around them.
On his LinkedIn page, Iandola announced he has joined Tesla as a senior staff machine learning scientist. “I joined the Tesla #Autopilot team this week. I am looking forward to working with some of the brightest minds in #deeplearning and #autonomousdriving,” he said.
CNBC points out that Tesla has suffered a brain drain of sorts in its self-driving unit recently. In May, Stuart Bowers, who headed the company’s self-driving program, departed for greener pastures after Elon Musk critiqued him and his group for not getting the results Musk wanted fast enough. Subsequently, according to The Information, 11 other members of the team — about 10% of the total — left Tesla as well after telling Musk they could not meet the timelines he demanded of them.
Sources tell CNBC that Tesla has acquired DeepScale in its entirety, although no details about how much Tesla paid for the tech startup have been revealed. Reportedly it had raised nearly $20 million in funding from prominent venture capital groups.
Tesla has not been shy about acquiring companies it thinks will help it achieve its mission of converting the world’s transportation system to electric vehicles. Previously it bought Grohmann Engineering, one of Germany’s most highly regarded engineering companies. More recently it acquired Maxwell Technologies, a company with vast experience with supercapacitors.
Elon Musk is relentless at pushing his people to achieve impossibly difficult results in unbelievably short periods of time. With DeepScale now in the fold, expect dramatic progress toward full self-driving cars to occur quickly — or else!