Tesla bulks up engineering staff for self-driving cars

As the new autopilot feature in Tesla's Model S aims to get smarter, CEO Elon Musk is hiring more engineers.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says he's personally involved in the recruitment of new engineers.

CBS

Tesla is putting more muscle into its self-driving car project, with Chief Executive Elon Musk himself recruiting new engineers on Twitter.

"Ramping up the Autopilot software team at Tesla to achieve generalized full autonomy. If interested, contact autopilot@teslamotors.com," Musk tweeted late Thursday. "Should mention that I will be interviewing people personally and Autopilot reports directly to me. This is a super high priority," he added in a follow-up tweet.

Tesla's autopilot technology is still far from fully autonomous driving, but it's moving in that direction with actual cars on the road. Today, Tesla Model S drivers can take their hands off the steering wheel while on the highway -- though they're not supposed to -- and can also let the car parallel park itself.

In the last few years, self-driving cars have moved from a crazy sci-fi idea to an accepted reality of the car industry's future. Tesla and nearby Google are involved in self-driving cars, while Apple is hiring auto execs and its CEO Tim Cook predicts "massive change" coming to the auto industry. Automakers have thrown their hats into the ring now, too, with some like Toyota even promising self-driving vehicles on consumers' driveways by 2020.

Palo Alto, California-based Tesla has a reputation for being at the forefront of the the car tech innovation, and it's unlikely Musk wants to be beaten when it comes to introducing autonomy. He said in an interview with Danish TV in September that he estimates it will take Tesla just three years to accomplish that goal.

Musk is on the hunt for "hardcore software engineers" who don't necessarily have experience with cars. They will instead be judged on their general coding skills and presumably their ability to work under pressure.

What's not clear is just how smart Musk thinks the autopilot system should get. Self-driving cars are one illustration of computers handling tasks that demand a lot more computing smarts than a mere word processor. Much of today's artificial intelligence push is devoted to similar efforts to make our lives easier, translating foreign languages, helping us search for particular subjects in photos or suggesting answers to email.

Musk has spoken publicly against artificial intelligence in the past, calling it our "biggest existential threat." Presumably he believes that teaching vehicles how to navigate complex road systems will help humans, not exterminate them.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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