Tesla will have to forge ahead without the help of Jim Keller, a former AMD chip architect who joined the automobile company in 2015 to spearhead the development of custom AI silicon, among other tasks. That's because Keller has reportedly accepted a job at Intel where he will be able to concentrate fully on chip design, whereas at Tesla he had several other responsibilities, especially as his role took on greater importance the longer he was there.
"Today is Jim Keller’s last day at Tesla, where he has overseen low-voltage hardware, Autopilot software and infotainment. Prior to joining Tesla, Jim’s core passion was microprocessor engineering and he’s now joining a company where he’ll be able to once again focus on this exclusively. We appreciate his contributions to Tesla and wish him the best," a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement.
There has not yet been a formal announcement by Intel or Keller, and Tesla did not mention the chipmaker specifically. However, there are multiple reports saying that is where Keller has landed. It's certainly a logical hire for Intel, which has a vested stake in both artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and, with the acquisition of Mobileye last year, autonomous vehicles as well. Whether Killer assumes a role related to AI and autonomous vehicle chip design remains to be seen, but he has the background for it. Word is he'll be joining Intel in a director VP level role leading platform architecture.
For Tesla, losing Keller to Intel (or wherever) is no small thing. The company is at the forefront of self-driving car technologies based in large part on AI, and has been trying to design its own silicon so it can implement purpose-built hardware into its automobiles. Going forward, Pete Bannon, a former colleague of Keller when they worked at Apple, will take the reins of of Tesla's Autopilot hardware team.
"Pete Bannon, who has been at Tesla for over two years, will now lead Autopilot hardware. Pete has been building processors since 1984, co-led the development of Apple’s A5 chip and then continued development through to the A9 chip. Prior to Apple, Pete was the VP of architecture and verification at PA Semi. Andrej Karpathy, Tesla’s Director of AI and Autopilot Vision, will now have overall responsibility for all Autopilot software," Tesla added.
Tesla also doubled down on its commitment to building its own chips, saying it is "deeply committed" to doing so with plans to "dramatically increase" its investments in chip design.
UpdateSince posting this article, Intel has formally introduced Keller as a senior vice president at the company. Intel says Keller will lead the company's engineering, which encompasses system-on-chip (SoC) development and integration.
"Jim is one of the most respected microarchitecture design visionaries in the industry, and the latest example of top technical talent to join Intel," said Dr. Murthy Renduchintala, Intel's chief engineering officer and group president of the Technology, Systems Architecture & Client Group (TSCG). "We have embarked on exciting initiatives to fundamentally change the way we build the silicon as we enter the world of heterogeneous process and architectures. Jim joining us will help accelerate this transformation."
Keller has more than two decades of experience in x86 and ARM-based microarchtecture design. He's worked on chip designs across a range of platforms, including PCs, servers, mobile devices, and automobiles.
"I had a great experience working at Tesla, learned a lot, and look forward to all the great technology coming from Tesla in the future. My lifelong passion has been developing the world's best silicon products," Keller said. "The world will be a very different place in the next decade as a result of where computing is headed. I am excited to join the Intel team to build the future of CPUs, GPUs, accelerators and other products for the data-centric computing era."
Keller's official start date at Intel is April 30.