A few years back, a corporate titan developed a vision for his new enterprise. Elon Musk wanted to build self-driving cars.
But he didn’t really know how. So he reached out to his friend, Doug Field, who had spent his career in the automotive industry, working on technology for the evolution of the automobile.
The CEO, like many of the pioneers of the self-driving revolution, needed someone to give him expert advice. And when he asked Doug Field, who had co-founded the open-source project to create the Linux operating system, to come on board, his confidence in him was unshaken.
While Steve Jobs and Bill Gates built Apple and Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin built Facebook and Google, Elon Musk is focused on changing how cars are made.
Doug Field is in the midst of playing a pivotal role in the transformation. As Lucid Motors, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup he founded to build self-driving vehicles, puts the finishing touches on its first vehicle, they are employing him at full-time, likely at his own expense.
Field, who was Vice President for Vehicle Development at Tesla from 2009 to 2013, spent the last year and a half at Tesla while Musk was on leave to deal with the funding issues he experienced at SolarCity Corp., where he is chairman and chief executive.
His expertise in the automotive sector and his skills in developing Android-based software — the basis of Google’s Android operating system — will help shape the vehicle, which will include an array of sensors, as well as hardware and software to make it safer.
“To be honest, it’s a pretty extraordinary opportunity, to be up in the mountains of Silicon Valley working on very advanced stuff and to be working with some of the best minds in the world that are devoted to pushing the technology forward in electric vehicles,” he said in an interview.
Besides supporting the development of the vehicle itself, Field has overseen the production of a small number of prototype vehicles to its New Mexico test track, which will also be for the purpose of validation testing of the system.
Volvo and Ford are working with Lucid on the development of a “delivery phase” of their self-driving cars.
The company wants to have its next-generation vehicle on the road in the next year, but it has yet to announce a specific date.
Building a self-driving car in an affordable and reliable manner will require new hardware.
Field said Lucid would soon offer technical data to competitors that will allow them to add to the next-generation vehicle, which will be a hybrid of the Lexus IS250 and Audi A8.
“We’re doing it on their terms, because that’s the only way they can drive really fast … and get them pretty close to full-cost production,” he said.
Field was aware of the ambitious goals being set by Musk when he joined the Lucid Motors team.
And he says the company has the right direction in place.
“We see ourselves as probably being the first by a mile,” he said. “You’ve got this grand vision of the transition from internal combustion to electric, and then high-mobility services will be brought in.”
Lucid executives believe their vehicles will be at the forefront of those next-generation systems and believe they will be the ones that lead the electric vehicle industry.
Field has been on a one-to-one interaction with Musk while he is on leave at Tesla.
“He’s great to talk to, but he is a busy man,” he said. “You don’t ever feel like he is taking time away from Tesla to go talk to you.”