George Holz was the first to jailbrake Apple’s iPhone and Sony’s PlayStation 3, so there’s no questioning his programming skills. Now he’s turned his attention on another technology: autonomous driving.
His start-up, Comma.ai, promises to provide an aftermarket kit that will give your car self-driving capabilities for just $999! Is this really possible or is the 27-year old being over-optimistic?
Well, after making that announcement last summer, he received a letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in which the agency expressed its discontent with his project. “We strongly encourage you to delay selling or deploying your product on the public roadways unless and until you can ensure it is safe,” the NHTSA’s chief cousel Paul A. Hemmersbaugh wrote.
Shortly afterwards, Holz cancelled the project, citing that he’d rather spend his life developing new technologies than dealing with lawyers and regulators. Now, however, he’s back with a new plan. What he has done is release the code, which he calls Comma Neo, for free to all interested parties. He pitches the system, named Open Pilot, as “an open source alternative to Tesla’s Autopilot”. In fact, he goes as far as claiming that it “provides almost all the same functionality as Autopilot 7”.
There are, however, certain limitations. For instance, it only works with the Honda Civic and specific Acuras, such as the ILX. It also needs a special OS and operates on a single Android phone, plus anyone who would delve into this would have to 3D-print the housing.
Talking to The Washington Post, Holz said that Open Pilot resembles Tesla’s Autopilot in that it is more of a semi-autonomous system that can keep the car into its lane and brake when necessary and that it requires a driver to be at the helm at all times, so it should be exempt from self-driving regulations.
Clearly, the NHTSA and California’s DVA disagree and see the Open Pilot as a threat to public safety. The startup has already received backing, but with the regulators stepping in, it’ll be interesting to see whether the whole project can actually take off the ground.