Christopher “CJ” Moore, the former Tesla Autopilot software engineer who left to join Apple’s secret car project last year, left Apple to join Luminar, a lidar company based in Orlando, Florida, as new head of software, the company announced. Moore only lasted seven months at Apple.
Moore is among a group of senior executives from other major companies who have joined Luminar, which makes the laser sensors that help self-driving vehicles “see” their surroundings. But his departure from Apple is another indication of the tech giant’s struggles to retain talent for its confused efforts to make a self-driving electric car, known as Project Titan.
“We are attracting the world’s best leaders in their fields to execute our vision and bring the future of transportation to life,” Luminar CEO Austin Russell said in a statement. An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This departure is the latest shakeup for Apple’s automotive division, which has undergone many changes over the past few years. Last year, project leader Doug Field left Apple to join Ford, where he was later named head of digital systems at the automaker’s new Model E division for electric and autonomous vehicles. Kevin Lynch, who ran Apple’s Watch division after serving as Adobe’s chief technical officer, was tapped to replace Field.
A few weeks later, in November 2021, Moore joined Apple to work on self-driving software, reporting to fellow Tesla expat Stuart Bowers, who previously served as vice president of engineering.
Despite the start of the project in 2014, work on an autonomous electric vehicle is still in its infancy. Previously, Apple had said it only intended to develop self-driving software that would be used by other automakers – which in itself was a departure from building a car.
Last year, Bloomberg reported that Apple has completed “much of the groundwork” on a new processor to power the invisible electric self-driving vehicle. The company is said to have accelerated its timeline for the self-driving car it is developing, with a new goal of launching it in just four years. The goal now for Project Titan, after multiple pivots, is to create a self-driving car that doesn’t have a steering wheel.
Moore is an interesting acquisition for Luminar. While at Tesla, he pushed back against claims made by Elon Musk about the company’s self-driving vehicle efforts, according to a memo from a call with California Department of Motor Vehicles officials. “Elon’s tweet does not match technical reality according to CJ,” the memo reads. “Tesla is currently at Tier 2.”
Russell, the young CEO of Luminar, also questioned Musk’s autonomy claims. In an interview with The edge Last year, Russell called Tesla’s advanced driver assistance systems “best in class”, but argued that the company had “drilled itself into a very deep hole” by falsely calling its latest version of the “Full Self-Driving” autopilot. Russell also calls himself the “chief skeptic of the standalone industry.”
Notably, Luminar is said to have a partnership with Tesla, despite Musk’s vocal derision of lidar as a “crutch” and “fool’s run”. A Tesla Model Y was photographed in Florida last year with one of Luminar’s rooftop lidar sensors.