Christopher “CJ” Moore, the former Tesla Autopilot software engineer who left to join Apple’s secretive car project last year, has left Apple to join Luminar, an Orlando, Florida-based lidar company, as its new head of software, the company announced. Moore only lasted seven months at Apple.
Moore is among a group of top executives from other leading companies to join Luminar, which makes the laser sensors that help autonomous vehicles “see” their surrounding environment. But his departure from Apple is yet another indication of the tech giant’s struggles to retain talent for its befuddled efforts to make an autonomous electric car — known as Project Titan.
“We’re attracting the best leaders in the world in their fields to execute our vision and deliver on the future of transportation,” Luminar CEO Austin Russell said in a statement. A spokesperson for Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The departure is the latest shakeup for Apple’s car division, which has undergone numerous changes over the past several years. Last year, the project’s chief, Doug Field, left Apple to join Ford, where he was later put in charge of digital systems at the automaker’s newly created Model E division for electric and autonomous vehicles. Kevin Lynch, who ran Apple’s Watch division after serving as CTO of Adobe, was tapped to replace Field.
A few weeks later, in November 2021, Moore joined Apple to work on self-driving software, reporting to Stuart Bowers, another Tesla expat, who previously served as the vice president of engineering.
Despite starting the project in 2014, work on an autonomous electric vehicle is still in its early stages. Earlier, Apple had said it only intended to develop self-driving software that would be utilized by other carmakers — which itself was a change from trying to build a car.
Last year, Bloomberg reported that Apple had completed “much of the core work” on a new processor meant to power the unseen electric autonomous vehicle. The company was reportedly accelerating its timeline for the autonomous car it’s developing, with a new target of launching it in just four years. The goal now for Project Titan, after multiple pivots, is to create an autonomous car that does not have a steering wheel.
Moore is an interesting get for Luminar. During his time at Tesla, he pushed back against Elon Musk’s claims about the company’s autonomous vehicle efforts, according to a memo of a call with officials from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ,” the memo read. “Tesla is at Level 2 currently.”
Russell, Luminar’s young CEO, has also cast doubt on Musk’s autonomy claims. In an interview with The Verge last year, Russell called Tesla’s advanced driver assist systems “best in class” but argued that the company has “dug itself into a really deep hole” by erroneously calling its latest version of Autopilot “Full Self-Driving.” Russell also calls himself the “chief autonomous industry skeptic.”
Notably, Luminar is rumored to have a partnership with Tesla, despite Musk’s vocal derision of lidar as a “crutch” and a “fool’s errand.” A Tesla Model Y was photographed in Florida last year sporting one of Luminar’s rooftop lidar sensors.