notorious hacker gets 3.1m funding to develop self-driving technology – DOC672058
Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is banking on 26-year-old hacker George Hotz to take on the giants of the auto industry in the race to develop autonomous driving technology. The VC firm showed its commitment to Comma.ai, Hotz’s autonomous driving startup, by plunking down $3.1 million for the company.
The investment is seen as a huge validation for Hotz, who gained notoriety a decade ago when he managed to “jail break” the so that it could be used by all telecom carriers. Since then, Hotz has interned at , worked at , and got sued by over a similar hacking episode involving the . The latter incident even gave rise to the legend of his hacker alias, Geohot. That’s quite the resume for a man still four years away from his 30th birthday.
Despite his age, Hotz continues to push the boundaries of technology with Comma.ai, a company that’s currently working on a kit that will fit semi-autonomous driving technology to regular vehicles. The firm hopes to have a simple plug-and-play kit on the market by the end of 2016 at a price point south of $1,000.
It’s an ambitious goal for a company that’s only been around since October, 2015. But that hasn’t stopped the 26-year-old from reaching for the starters. In fact, shortly after founding Comma.ai, Hotz purchased cameras, GoPro mounts, and a 2016 Acura ILX and started working on the tech from his garage in San Francisco.
In the time since, Hotz was able to catch the attention of Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and convinced him to make a seven-figure investment in the startup. With the money now on the table, Comma.ai is in the process of expanding its team past the four people that were initially involved in the project.
The pressure’s on Hotz and Comma.ai to now deliver on its goal of bringing semi-autonomous driving technology to market. If it succeeds, there’s a chance the company could revolutionize the industry much sooner than most automakers thought they could. Time to see if Hotz is as good as his legend suggests.
Why it matters
There are so many things about this story that can be considered important. First, there are the implications of what this tech can do for all the parties involved and those that could’ve been involved if they hadn’t passed up on it the first time around. One such company is Tesla, which could have had dibs on the tech had Elon Musk not passed up on it, something Hotz himself admitted happening. In fact, it was the collapse of those talks with Musk that gave Hotz the idea to start Comma.ai, and if his technology lives up to the investment made by Andreessen Horowitz, it could turn into a tech battle between the ambitious startup and the established EV giant.
At the very least, you have to give Comma.ai credit for putting a lot of its eggs in this one basket. According to , Hotz’s technology has already been successful in navigating a one-hour ride from Mountain View to San Francisco. That may not mean much in the context of what other companies have already done with their own research and development, but the fact that his technology is already capable of doing it is a very big deal, especially if he lives up to his promise of selling the tech at less than $1,000 a unit.
The idealist in me wants to see this technology work. Who doesn’t want a semi-autonomous driving tech that costs just under $1,000? I’m sure those who are pushing for it, or are at least open to the technology, would be happy it could come at such an affordable price, as long as it meets safety standards. But then there’s the realist in me who thinks that for as brilliant and as tech-savvy as Hotz and his team at Comma.ai are, there’s more to semi-autonomous driving technology. There’s a reason why some of the biggest automakers in the world are targeting 2020 as the year that they can confidently launch their own tech. If these companies, who have far more resources than Comma.ai, are being more careful with their timetables, what does that say for what Hotz and his team are doing with their own resources?
I’m hopeful, but I’m still cautious. Chances are, I’m probably not the only one who feels that way.
2016 Acura ILX