A Key Tesla Autopilot Executive Joins NEXTEV

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Tesla’s team of “hardcore engineers” working on the Autopilot included Kurt Thywissen, Senior Engineering Manager of UI & Autopilot Software and an early member of the team. However, he has now left the EV giant to work for NEXTEV, reports Electrek. Thywissen was also one of the software engineers who was working on the popular P2P client Kazaa and left to create Skype. After leaving the director’s role at Skype, Thywissen joined Tesla’s team in 2013.

Spurring demand for engineers

With the help of other companies in the EV field such as Bosch, Google, Apple, Baidu and others, Chinese-backed electric car startups like Atieva and Faraday Future have spurred demand for engineers with electric car or autonomous driving experience. Also Chinese EV startups have been poaching an impressive number of employees from Tesla.

NEXTEV is the latest thorn in Tesla’s retention and recruitment effort. Thywissen has been appointed as Senior Director of Human Machine Interaction at NEXTEV. The engineer will be working with the startup’s “Digital Cockpit team,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

In a car, the interaction between the machine and human is expected to become an essential aspect of the upcoming transition to autonomous driving systems. When both “machine driving” and “human driving” models become available in cars, one could argue that the user interface will be more essential than ever. Automakers such as BMW with its NEXT100 concept and Nissan with its IDS concept have both featured concepts for the transition between the two modes inside a vehicle.

NEXTEV is a heavily-funded Tesla rival

NEXTEV is a young Chinese company in Silicon Valley with an engineering facility. Just last year, the startup came out of stealth mode, and according to reports, it has already raised close to $1 billion. Just last month, the company announced that it has signed a contract with the Nanjing Municipal Government to build a 3 billion RMB ($465 million) electric vehicle factory.

The Chinese company plans to use a similar strategy as Tesla and launch cheaper vehicles, starting with a supercar. The supercar should be unveiled by the end of the year. To lead its U.S. operations, the company hired Padmasree Warrior last year. Warrior is a former Cisco and Motorola CTO. In addition, Henry Wang, a long-time engineering program manager at Tesla, joined the startup in a similar role earlier this year.

The founder of Chinese website Bitauto, William Li, is the founder of NEXTEV. Also it is financed heavily by Tencent Holdings and Sequoia Capital.

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