Robert Rose, one of the main engineers behind automaker Tesla’s recently launched Autopilot self-driving car technology, has joined Google.
But it’s not immediately clear if Rose is part of Google’s autonomous car project, as some have speculated, or if he’s with a separate Google robotics operation that has been without a head for the past several months.
Google did not respond immediately to a question seeking clarification on Rose’s new role at the company.
Rose’s LinkedIn profile merely describes him as a software engineer with Google Robotics, a role that potentially could have him involved in Google’s autonomous car venture, or not at all.
Rose is credited with helping Tesla build its Autopilot technology, which the automaker has described as being able to continually learn and improve on itself. The technology works by gathering and correlating real-time data from a forward-looking camera, forward-facing radar and ultrasonic sensors for sensing objects 16 feet around the vehicle in all directions and speeds.
Tesla has said the technology allows its Model S vehicles to steer, change lanes and manage speeds in mostly autonomous fashion. According to the company, its Autopilot is both self-learning and self-improving over time because of its ability to consume real-time data feedback from its own systems as well as from the broader fleet of vehicles equipped with the technology.
Google’s self-driving car effort could clearly benefit from Rose’s skills in the area. Many of the technologies that Google is working on are similar to those being built by Tesla. But unlike Tesla’s approach of integrating self-driving features into regular cars, Google has said it wants to deliver a fleet of completely autonomous vehicles designed from scratch for self-driving purposes.
Rose’s background could also make him a fit for Google’s robotics division, started up quietly about two years ago by Andy Rubin, the main developer of the Android operating system. The group has acquired multiple small robot and drone makers recently, including companies such as animal-like robot maker Boston Dynamics, Japanese bot maker Schaft and drone startup Titan Aerospace.
Rubin, who left Google last October, has previously described the robotics division as a moonshot venture with a mission to deliver a range of consumer and industrial robots by 2020.
Google itself has remained tightlipped about the activities of its robot group, which is now an Alphabet company after the recent reorganization. But a recent report by Business Insider suggests that the group is in some disarray because of a leadership vacuum following Rubin’s departure.
The group, apparently called Replicant internally at Google, has been struggling to find a way to take all of its disparate and acquired technologies and bring them to market in a cohesive and strategic fashion. According to Business Insider, Alphabet has been in talks with multiple people about heading up the robotic group. But the company apparently has had a hard time finding candidates with the right combination of robotics and business skills. With Google not commenting, it’s unclear if Rose is that candidate.