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Young Hacker Creates Driverless Car in a Month

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Autonomous car

Comma.ai’s test car. Image courtesy Comma.ai

A 26-year-old hacker named George Hotz is working on beating Tesla and Google to be the first to launch a self-driving car, Aaron Tilley wrote for Forbes. Hotz is set up in San Francisco, where his company, Comma.ai, is valued at $20 million, according to the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Comma.ai’s first project is a self-driving car kit that it will sell directly to car owners who want to add autonomous driving features to their vehicles, like lane-keeping assistance and emergency braking to prevent accidents. It may take the form of a dash cam that plugs into the on-board diagnostics port found on most cars made after 1996. The port provide access to a car’s internal systems.

Goal to Work With Top Five Cars

Hotz said that the device will only work in cars that already have anti-locking brakes and power steering. His goal is for it to work with the five best-selling cars in the United States. Hotz said the device will be ready for market by the end of the year, even though there still is no prototype for it. Comma.ai aims to become a software provider for auto makers and auto parts suppliers.

Ashlee Vance wrote for Bloomberg Business that Hotz built his self-driving car in about a month. It is a 2016 Acura ILX, which he adapted by adding a laser-based radar (lidar) system to the roof, and by mounting a camera near the rear view mirror. There is a wooden board in place of the glove compartment, a joystick instead of a gearshift, and a vertically positioned 21.5 inch screen in the center of the dashboard, Vance writes.

George Hotz

George Hotz, image courtesy Comma.ai

Long History of Hacking

Hotz first started tinkering with cars at age 12, when he hacked a Barbie Jeep so he could drive it using a remote controller, Tilley writes. When Hotz was 17, he was the first person to hack Apple’s iPhone, and went on to hack the Sony PlayStation 3. He interned and worked at Google, SpaceX, Facebook, and Vicarious, and is now thinking about getting a college degree. Although Hotz says he can easily earn as much as $100,000 in a weekend doing security contract work, money bores him, but Artificial Intelligence fascinates him. “AI is fundamentally the only thing I’ve ever cared about,” he said.

Here’s how Vance described a ride with Hotz in his self-driving Acura:

After a couple miles, Hotz lets go of the wheel and pulls the trigger on the joystick, kicking the car into self-driving mode. He does this as we head into an S curve at 65 miles per hour. I say a silent prayer. Hotz shouts, ‘You got this, car! You got this!’

The car does, more or less, have it. It stays true around the first bend. Near the end of the second, the Acura suddenly veers near an SUV to the right; I think of my soon-to-be-fatherless children; the car corrects itself. Amazed, I ask Hotz what it felt like the first time he got the car to work.

‘Dude,’ he says, ‘the first time it worked was this morning.’

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