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George Hotz’s Startup Gives Away Semiautonomous-Driving Software

George Hotz’s Startup Gives Away Semiautonomous-Driving Software

Postby smix » Thu Dec 01, 2016 8:10 am

George Hotz’s Startup Gives Away Semiautonomous-Driving Software
The Wall Street Journal

URL: http://www.wsj.com/articles/george-hotz ... 1480548039
Category: Vehicles
Published: November 30, 2016

Description: Move is a gambit to circumvent regulatory authority over self-driving cars
George Hotz, a 27-year-old coder who believes auto makers have been too slow to roll out self-driving vehicles, on Wednesday started giving away software to enable certain cars with semiautonomous driving features, a gambit to circumvent regulatory authority over self-driving cars. Mr. Hotz’s company, Comma.ai, had initially planned to sell an aftermarket kit consisting of the software as well as hardware that would provide capabilities similar to those of Tesla Motors Inc.’s Autopilot system, for about $1,000 by year’s end. But the company scrapped the plan after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent a letter in October raising questions about the effort. The software released Wednesday is designed to convert a 2016 Honda Civic Touring and 2016 Acura ILX with AcuraWatch Plus package. In addition, the firm provided step-by-step instructions to build the accompanying hardware, which uses a OnePlus 3 smartphone. The effort is aimed at self-driving car hobbyists and researchers, Mr. Hotz said, and he assumes drivers will use the technology cautiously. “I’m very interested in safety,” he told reporters Wednesday. In giving away the software and plans for the hardware, he said, he had transformed the project into “an open-source alternative to [Tesla’s] Autopilot,“ adding that the package provides almost all of the same functionality available in Autopilot 7.” Mr. Hotz said the NHTSA’s regulatory reach didn't extend to free software. “NHTSA only regulates physical products that are sold,” he said. “They don’t regulate open-source software, which is a whole lot more like speech.” A spokesman for NHTSA declined to comment. The Obama administration and state regulators have been preparing for self-driving vehicles even as auto makers and tech companies race to refine the technology. Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving program has accumulated more than 2 million miles of testing on public roadways, and General Motors Co. acquired Cruise Automation earlier this year to jump-start its own effort. Several companies are working to bring out autonomous cars by 2021, including Ford Motor Co. Tesla in October began shipping cars including hardware that the company said could be enabled to make the vehicles fully self-driving once the necessary software is validated and approved by regulators. The Silicon Valley firm’s Autopilot system is the most advanced semiautonomous technology generally available, capable of using cameras and sensors to navigate and control the vehicle in certain circumstances. At a press conference held inside Mr. Hotz’s dark San Francisco garage, during which he handed out black stocking caps and quoted rappers, he bemoaned his treatment by NHTSA and California regulators. He lambasted Ford for what he said was a lack of desire to deliver self-driving cars, saying auto makers need to get used to the idea that new players would supply self-driving technology for their vehicles. “If they don’t accept software companies writing the code for their cars, they’re going to end up like the phone companies that didn't accept Android,” Mr. Hotz said. Mr. Hotz also laid out his vision for Comma.ai, which he says is seeking an aftermarket manufacturing partner that could help make his idea into a product for sale. The company may also try to sell software subscriptions as the network of users grows, he said. Other companies had offered to buy Comma.ai, Mr. Hotz said. To explain why he had rejected such overtures, he pointed to a whiteboard on which the company’s priorities had been written: “1) fun. 2) solve self-driving cars. 3) profit?”
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