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Riding shotgun in a DIY self-driving car

Engadget Engadget 25/05/2016 Roberto Baldwin


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"I'm an idiot."

Superhacker and Comma founder George Hotz is standing in a Las Vegas suite, and he's wearing a suit. That's saying something: He was the first person to hack the iPhone and PlayStation 3 while using the hacker name GeoHot. He doesn't wear suits. But now he's running a company that's built its own semi-autonomous AI-trained vehicle in a garage. Today it has employees and investors, and plans to release hardware by the end of the year. "This is a big deal, so he dressed up," Jake Smith, head of operations, told me on my way to the meeting." width="560">

The actual drive was impressive. Without thinking about the amount of technology or research that's been put into the car, Comma's system is almost as good as Tesla's Autopilot but without the lane-changing capability or the road-sign reading found on other systems (features Hotz calls gimmicky). After all, Hotz started this on his own in September of last year with off-the-shelf components. Now the company has with six employees. If Chffr takes off and the startup gets the data it needs to teach its AI to be a better driver and it can get its sub-$1,000 system for folks who can't afford the luxury of a Model S, it'll be a huge achievement. It might even help ease the longer-term transition to fully autonomous vehicles.

Comma's motto is: Ghostriding for the masses. That's a tongue-in-cheek reference to jumping out of a vehicle and letting it roll down the street while the driver dances alongside. It's funny, but I wouldn't be surprised if the slogan changes before the company ships any hardware. Cars are dangerous hunks of metal hurtling down the road. There's nothing funny about people being hurt in a car accident. Hotz may have called himself an idiot for not anticipating the botts dots of Vegas, but he's far from stupid. Running a company that actually ships stuff is a sign he's looking toward the future. He's getting ready to take on the grown-ups of the automotive world, but will probably keep having fun along the way.

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