Chris Lattner, Tesla's former vice president of Autopilot software, played a big role in pushing Tesla to become a data company before he left.
Tesla ramped up its efforts to become a big data company under Chris Lattner, one of Apple's most famous developers who left the electric carmaker last Wednesday after just 6 months of employment.
Lattner's public résumé highlights how data is playing an increasingly important role in Tesla's business model going forward.
"One of Tesla's huge advantages in the autonomous driving space is that it has tens of thousands of cars already on the road," Lattner wrote. "We built infrastructure to take advantage of this, allowing the collection of image and video data from this fleet, as well as building big data infrastructure in the cloud to process and use it."
Under Lattner, Tesla updated its sharing policy in May to store and process the data collected by Model S and Model X vehicles on the road today.
"We are working hard to improve autonomous safety features and make self-driving a reality for you as soon as possible," Tesla wrote in a May message to owners, according to Electrek. "In order to do so, we need to collect short video clips using the car's external cameras to learn how to recognize things like lane lines, street signs, and traffic light positions. The more fleet learning of road conditions we are able to do, the better your Tesla's self-driving ability will become."
Tesla asked owners for approval in May before collecting the anonymized data.
Tesla has access to a bigger trove of data than ever before thanks to a suite of new hardware that the company has been installing in vehicles since last October. That hardware will eventually support Tesla's second-generation Autopilot system and full self-driving capabilities.
Lattner's big focus on data collection during his brief stint at Tesla says a great deal about CEO Elon Musk's vision for the company.
McKinsey & Co. researchers predict that car data monetization on a global scale is set to become a $450 billion to $750 billion by 2030.
Tesla, which resembles more of a tech company than a traditional automaker, is better equipped to capitalize on big data as a company that already uses software updates to enhance vehicles on the road.
"High-tech companies, start-ups, alternative mobility operators, data management services, insurers, roadside assistance providers, and infrastructure operators will all be players in the car data monetization landscape," the McKinsey team wrote. "It is the most traditional of automotive players, however, who may find staking a claim most challenging."
Tesla is smart to focus on data collection early.
Not only does to aid Tesla's autonomous driving development before the company's public demo of the technology this year, but it gives Tesla the advantage of time as competition in the space heats up.
Israeli startup Otonomo, for example, is already helping big automakers like Daimler collect and sell data to third parties.
"[Internet of Cars] is too big and too complementary to harvesting and analyzing data for the world's most valuable firms to ignore," Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jona wrote in a May research note. "As such, we expect the next few months and years to reveal a number of catalysts that show with little ambiguity that there are some very big technological and commercial bets being made right in Tesla's backyard."