Zeljko Popovic, a leader within Tesla’s Autopilot team, is leaving for Embark, the autonomous trucking start-up in San Francisco, CNBC is reporting.
The departure is a feather in the cap for Embark but another spot of bad news for Tesla, which has garnered mixed reports from Wall Street for missing some of its targets over the last two years, including a much-delayed release of its first all-electric SUV Model X. Tesla has also faced scrutiny over the safety of its driver assistance feature.
Embark and Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Just two months ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised its electric vehicles would be capable of operating as fully autonomous robo-taxis by the end of 2020. But during Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting this week, Musk dialed back on that claim, conceding that some Tesla self-driving features still need improvements.
According to the CNBC report, Popovic, whose background is in robotics, built and ran the perception team for Tesla’s Autopilot division. He managed the development of highly accurate maps of U.S. highways for Tesla, and created a “sensor fusion system” that enables Autopilot to “see” other cars on the road.
Founded in 2016, Embark has raised $47 million to date to support its self-driving technology. The trucking startup integrates its system into Peterbilt semis and has partnered with Amazon to haul cargo on Interstate 10 in California.