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Comma.ai is offering free code to the public to build a semi-autonomous car

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【Summary】The famed Silicon Valley startup Comma.ai opened a media conference on November 30th, to make its aforementioned self-driving software for free. The code is already open-source on GitHub, for coding experts to delve into and make their own auto-piloted car.

Original Claire    Dec 05, 2016 5:25 PM PT
Comma.ai is offering free code to the public to build a semi-autonomous car

The famed Silicon Valley startup Comma.ai recently held an interesting news conference. They announced they will be giving away software for free. The code is already open-sourced on GitHub. As such, coding experts can now attempt to make their own autopiloted cars.

Comma.ai intends to release a $999 package at the end of this year. A cassette-like gadget with a camera will be installed on a car's front dash. Afterwards, the vehicle will be able to drive autonomously from Mountain View to San Francisco without requiring the driver to touch the wheel, the brake or the gas pedal.

"This isn't a kit that makes your car into a fully self-driving vehicle, but it is a system that can provides a power equivalent to Tesla's Autopilot, without requiring that you buy a whole new car," George Hotz, the famous iPhone and PlayStation hacker and founder of Comma.ai, told the public at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Conference this fall.

However, he soon received a warning letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The federal government apparently asked him to provide detailed information about the safety of the product.

"We strongly encourage you to delay selling or deploying your product on the public roadways unless and until you can ensure it is safe," Paul A. Hemmersbaugh, NHTSA's chief counsel, wrote in the letter.

In response, Hotz cancelled the product launch, saying that he would rather build amazing tech than deal with regulators.

After halting his plans for a short time, Hotz finally decided to release the self-driving project, called "Open Pilot," to public. This was done instead of selling the previous Comma One product to drivers. The move was carried out in order to sidestep the NHTSA and the California DMV -- the latter of which was said to have shown up at Hotz's house three times to review what he was building.

"NHTSA only regulates physical products that are sold," Hotz said. "They do not regulate open source software, which is a whole lot more like speech." He went on to say, "if the US government doesn't like this [project], I'm sure there are plenty of countries that will."

However, although Hotz has compromised on a certain level in order to escape from the NHTSA's regulations, whether his software will be functional for drivers (or hardcore hackers), remains a question.

It's not easy to DIY a car into an autopilot mode. First, drivers need to build a dashcam-like device with a 3D printer; then plug the device into a car's controller area network -- or BUS in most cars built after 2006. They also need an Android OnePlus 3 phone to run the code and provide a camera that can scan the road.

Besides the difficulty of tinkering with your car, another limitation is this: the software is only functional with some Hondas and Acuras.

When asked about whether Comma.ai plans to make any money, Hotz told a Verge reporter that the open source project is for people who want to push the world forward.

"How does anybody make money? Our goal is to basically own the network ... of self-driving cars that is out there."

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