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Tesla to Google: “Look ma, no hands!”

A company that started in 2003 with 12,000 employees has just beaten auto and tech giants General Motors and Google in the race to self-driving cars. Tesla’s Model S electric sedan is now equipped with a patch, called Autopilot, that would allow the car to operate autonomously under certain conditions. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is describing the technology as a “really good chauffeur.”

Tesla’s Model S cars are already equipped with the necessary sensors: a forward radar, a forward-looking camera, 12 long-range ultrasonic sensors positioned to sense 16 feet around the car in every direction at all speeds, GPS, and a high-precision digitally-controlled electric assist braking system. All that the owners need to do now is download Tesla Version 7.0 software release over WiFi (for a whopping $2,500) and go hands-free.

To be clear, Tesla still advises that your fingertips should keep touching the steering wheel in some capacity. And if you grab the wheel, or make any movement against it, Autopilot turns off and passes the control back to you. That said, the bevy of journalists and photographers who tested the software this week in Palo Alto, Calif., report that the hardest part about riding a Tesla Model S on Autopilot is to go back to their own beaten up sedans.

What’s worth mentioning here (again) is how smaller teams with singular vision often get the job done faster. According to Musk, out of the 12,000, about 50 people inside Tesla work on its Autopilot software, with 100 more devoted to the hardware. Compare this figure to Google’s 57,000 employees or GM’s 216,000 workers. Even if only 1% of their forces were to be devoted to autonomous driving technology, that number would still be much, much higher than Tesla’s 150 people team.

Perhaps, that is exactly the problem with bigger companies. There is so much organizational clutter that no one really knows what the other person is doing. Smaller teams work better. They innovate better. And since everybody is in the loop, there is no wastage of brain power by different teams inventing the same thing concurrently. Kudos to Tesla!