Scrappy self-driving car start-up Comma.ai released a free software kit on Wednesday to help developers learn to build a device that can turn any car into an autonomous vehicle. The year-old company, which is founded by a well-known hacker and backed by prominent Silicon Valley investors, hopes to accelerate the development of self-driving cars while skirting the ire of Washington.
Washington was skeptical: Shortly after the announcement at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, Hotz was slapped with a warning letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 27-year-old Hotz — who was the first person to jailbreak an iPhone and whose hacking capabilities earned him a New Yorker profile and an offer from Elon Musk to build Tesla’s automated systems — tweeted out the letter. It asked for detailed information about the safety of the product he said he intended to launch before the end of the year.
Within hours of getting the NHTSA letter, Hotz canceled the product launch. He didn’t have the money to hire lawyers required to get government approval, he said in an interview with The Post this week. Hotz added he had been receiving unnerving, unsolicited house calls from California officials, who stopped by to review what he was building.
He decided that a workaround would be to offer up the code to his kit — for free.
The code, which is available on the open-source collaboration platform GitHub, allows anyone (but really, hardcore hackers) to build a dashcam-like device that they can set up in their car. The device plugs into a port in the car called a controller area network, or BUS (in most cars built after 2006). Users must build the device with a 3-D printer and have an Android OnePlus 3 phone to run the code and provide the camera that can scan the road.