Tesla is buying computer vision start-up DeepScale in a quest to create truly driverless cars

Key Points
  • Tesla is acquiring computer vision startup DeepScale, CNBC has learned.
  • Forrest Iandola, the startup's CEO, has joined Tesla as senior staff machine learning scientist.
  • DeepScale could help fill the gap left by the departure of several Autopilot engineers who reportedly left over the summer.
An employee drives a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S electric automobile, equipped with Autopilot hardware and software, hands-free on a highway.
Jasper Juinen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tesla is acquiring DeepScale, a computer vision start-up that could help it develop fully driverless vehicles, CNBC has learned.

The deal could help Tesla's goal to deliver cars with advanced driver-assistance systems that are good enough for owners to rent them out as "robotaxis" on an Uber-like platform without drivers. However, like all automakers, Tesla is limited by the computational resources it can build into its vehicles.

DeepScale's technology was designed to help automakers use low-wattage processors, which are standard in most cars, to power very accurate computer vision. These processors work with sensors, mapping, planning and control systems, to allow cars to make sense of what's going on around them.

This week, DeepScale CEO Forrest Iandola joined Tesla as a senior staff machine learning scientist, according to an announcement he posted on his LinkedIn page.

Iandola simply said, "I joined the Tesla #Autopilot team this week. I am looking forward to working with some of the brightest minds in #deeplearning and #autonomousdriving." Iandola obtained a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley, where he worked on deep neural nets that could work on mobile devices with relatively small amounts of memory.

Two other people familiar with the deal confirmed that Tesla had bought the company outright, but declined to disclose the precise terms of the deal.

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The acquisition could help fill the talent gap in Tesla's Autopilot group. Eleven engineers reportedly left the team in the summer after group leader Stuart Bowers left in May.

Even if Tesla can perfect self-driving technology, regulation governing the use of these features is still evolving.

Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment.

Previously, DeepScale raised $15 million in a series A round led by Steve Cohen's venture fund Point72, and Siemens-backed venture fund next47, and a $3 million seed round from Sun Microsystems cofounder Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder and investor Ali Partovi, and Jerry Yang's AME Cloud Ventures among others.

Tesla has acquired at least five other companies besides DeepScale, including SolarCity in 2016, and a battery tech venture, Maxwell Technologies, earlier this year.

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