Fast forward to today. Despite assurances that as many as 8 million driverless cars will be added to the road in 2025, even operations like that of Alphabet’s Waymo have yet to expand beyond selected metros. The reasons are regulatory as well as technological in nature, but expense plays a role. Conservative estimates peg the cost of outfitting cars at between $100,000 to 250,000 per car.
So why not go the do-it-yourself route? That’s the question George Hotz posed five years ago — he’s the American hacker best known for developing exploits that targeted Apple’s iOS operating system and reverse-engineering Sony’s PlayStation 3. In September 2015, Hotz founded Comma.ai with the goal of developing a semi-automated system — OpenPilot — that would improve cars’ visual perception and electromechanical motor control. (Hotz abdicated the role of CEO to Ricardo Biasini last year, Comma.ai’s then-vice president of quality, who previously joined the company after five years with Tesla.) Unlike most full-stack solutions in testing, it’s intended to replace OEM advanced driver-assistance systems, effectively imbuing cars with self-driving capabilities.
For the first time in its history, Comma.ai had an official presence at the Consumer Electronics Show. The company recently invited members of the press to test-drive the latest version of its system — and to show off the Comma Two.
OpenPilot’s development had a bit of a rocky start. The first version’s reveal in a Bloomberg article and video prompted a cease-and-desist letter from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which accused Comma.ai of testing a self-driving car in the state without a license. Subsequently, OpenPilot was packaged into a shippable device dubbed the Comma One, which again ran afoul of the authorities because of noncompliance with U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Under pressure from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, Comma One was canceled, and Comma.ai open-sourced OpenPilot on GitHub.
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