Tesla, Former Supplier Continue Their Vicious Public Row

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Tesla Motors isn’t backing down in its public falling out with Mobileye N.V., and neither is its former supplier.

This week has seen a constant back-and-forth between the two companies after Mobileye claimed it broke ties with Tesla after becoming concerned about the safety of its Autopilot system.

Clearly, it was a messy divorce.

Sparks flew on Wednesday after Mobileye chief technology officer Amnon Shashua told Reuters that his company, which supplied the camera used in Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving feature, backed out of the deal because Tesla was “pushing the envelope in terms of safety.”

The camera-guided system wasn’t “designed to cover all possible crash situations in a safe manner,” and couldn’t be counted on for hands-off driving, he claimed. The Israeli supplier’s exit came after Autopilot contributed to the death of Joshua Brown on a Florida highway in May.

Tesla, which plans to release a vastly updated Autopilot system next week, wasted no time firing back.

Yesterday, the automaker claimed Mobileye tried to force the company over a barrel before walking away. A Tesla spokesperson told Reuters that Mobileye, after learning that Tesla planned to upgrade Autopilot with new technology, “attempted to force Tesla to discontinue this development, pay them more and use their products in future hardware.”

The looming Autopilot upgrade uses radar as well as the car’s camera, as it did before, to guide the vehicle. The system aims to avoid the blind spots of a camera-only system, hopefully leading to fewer incidents.

According to Marketwatch, Mobileye didn’t take Tesla’s rebuttal lightly. It’s now accusing the automaker of lying. Mobileye claims it approached Tesla CEO Elon Musk in early 2015, before Autopilot’s rollout, declaring that the system was a driving aid and wasn’t safe for hands-off operation. Musk reportedly agreed, then introduced the system with a hands-off mode.

Following the fatal May crash (where a Model S driver collided with a transport truck after the Autopilot failed to recognize it), Musk allegedly blamed Mobileye. The supplier then packed its bags and split.

“Mobileye has made substantial efforts since then to take more control on how this project can be steered to a proper functional safety system,” the company said in a statement. “As for Tesla’s claim that Mobileye was threatened by Tesla’s internal computer vision efforts, the company has little knowledge of these efforts other than an awareness that Tesla had put together a small team.”

If Musk’s past battles have taught us anything, we haven’t heard the last of this very conscious uncoupling.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Sep 17, 2016

    Elon went to the mountain and came back with a Tweet (stone tables are so out) that says: "Thou shall not ever question Elon Musk or any of his corporations."

  • NickS NickS on Sep 17, 2016

    Mobileye is not a total solution, it never was meant to be. They are nowhere near able to provide an end to end product. Thia is all on the automaker. Tesla has a big problem - trying to reach volume and become profitable asap. Partly because of that and mostly because of EM's personality they are rushing crap-tech just to grab headlines and the early adopter wallets. Some owners buy Teslas but don't use the crappy parts. The other part is that they are doing level 2 which is a lot harder in one critical sense. It would be easier to do full autonomy but that still requires a very strong commitment to it all, as well as a solid multi-modal sensor set integrated into a unified whole. There are some AI bits that are not trivial either. You need some deep learning bits that are not at all settled science. To design a solid safe system requires the opposite of tesla. I've worked with one company in the lidar space mostly with the deep learning and image analysis parts. The more serious players in the tech world are focused on other automakers, Ford, etc. I work in the valley and EM attracts either fawning followers or avid haters. Drive to innovate and disruption is everywhere around here but most of the people I work with have a hard time with personality like that. In my career, I've seen time and again all the smart people leave to get away from the drama and upheaval. No one wants to be associated with that.

    • Jthorner Jthorner on Sep 18, 2016

      "In my career, I’ve seen time and again all the smart people leave to get away from the drama and upheaval. No one wants to be associated with that." Amen to that. The EM types end up surrounded by sycophants who will put up with their nonsense just to be close to a celebrity.

  • Mike Some Evs are hitting their 3 year lease residual values in 6 months.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I am just here for the beer! (did I say it right?)
  • El scotto Tim, to be tactful I think a great many of us would like a transcript of TTAC's podcast. 90 minutes is just too long for most of us to listen. -evil El Scotto kicking in- The blog at best provides amusement, 90 minutes is just too much. Way too much.
  • TooManyCars VoGhost; I was referring more to the Canadian context, but the same graft is occurring in the US of A and Europe. Political affiliation appears to be irrelevant.
  • The Oracle Going to see a lot of corporations migrating out of Delaware as the state of incorporation. Musk sets trends, he doesn’t follow them.