Fully autonomous cars are closer than ever to coming to market. In the meantime, carmakers have been adding some self-driving technology to cars available now, for instance, features to help drivers safely change lanes, safely back up, keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, and lots more.
California entrepreneur George Francis Hotz will be debuting a new after-market self-driving vehicle kit, which he compares with Tesla’s Autopilot, Darrell Etherington and Romain Dillet wrote for Tech Crunch.
Hotz, 26, who became known as an iPhone and PlayStation hacker, said this is the first official product of Comma.ai, the company he started a year ago in his “Crypto Castle” garage in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood.
Although the kit, Comma One, will not make existing cars into completely autonomous vehicles, it will provide features that Hotz says are equal to Tesla’s Autopilot — for a lot less money.
Tesla Autopilot Upgrades
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said recently that his company will be upgrading Tesla’s Autopilot system with more than 200 improvements. Among those are: taking more advantage of Tesla’s on-board radar to spot potential obstacles on the road, and doing more to make sure drivers are paying attention to the road when their cars are in self-driving mode, as Dave Lee wrote for BBC.
In May in Florida, Autopilot failed to prevent a Tesla from crashing into a large truck that was turning left, coming from the opposite direction; the Tesla driver was killed. The car accident occurred because Autopilot was not able to differentiate the white truck from the sky.
An Autopilot update will ensure that if a driver ignores repeated warnings to take over the steering wheel, the vehicle will need to be parked in order to reactivate autonomous functions. Tesla has not said when the updated Autopilot will be available. The existing Autopilot system has been in Tesla cars since October 2014.
Comma One for Limited Car Models
At first, Hotz’s Comma One will be compatible only with certain Honda and Acura models that have lane-keeping technology, Aaron Tilley wrote for Forbes, and will use the radar and cameras built into those models. But over time, Comma One will work with more vehicle brands and models.
Hotz expects the kit to ship before the end of the year. It will be priced at $999, and a subscription for the software upgrades will be $24 a month. At first it will be available only in the SF Bay area.
Regarding the fatal Tesla accident in May 2016, Hotz said that it is not only that driver who was not paying attention to the road. Defending Autopilot, he said:
40,000 people die a year from not paying attention. It was a driver not paying attention. That happens left and right on the road today. […] Think about all the lives that Autopilot could save. […] If [Tesla] is the iOS of self-driving cars, we want to be the Android.
Hotz became known as a hacker for unlocking the iPhone, thus making it possible to use iPhones with carriers other than Apple and AT&T. He got his start on car technology when he took apart an Acura ILX to build his own self-driving car. He then was able to raise $3.1 million from Andreessen Horowitz, and launched dash cam apps for iPhone and Android to begin gathering data to educate his self-driving algorithms. He announced at the TechCrunch Disrrupt conference earlier this week that he has 730 drivers collecting data for the system.