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Comma One Maker Pulls Semi-Autonomous Add On Device

Company founder claims he'd rather invent things than deal with government.

by on Oct.28, 2016

Comma.ai's George Hotz at the introduction of the Comma One: an aftermarket device giving cars semi-autonomous capability for $999.

The promise of an aftermarket system to make your car semi-autonomous … as quickly as it was here, it was gone.

Comma.ai introduced the new aftermarket add-on at a trade show in San Francisco last month that allows anyone with $999 and who is willing to pay the $24 a month subscription fee to turn their vehicle into a nearly self-driving beast.

The Last Word!

As is usually the case with new technology, wiring up your car with a device made from off-the-shelf parts and turning it loose on the freeway isn’t as simple as it seems. Federal regulators, namely the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, had a few questions about the new device.

However, rather than subjugate himself and his start-up company to government’s heavy-handed tactic of a query letter in which it asked standard questions about a new device like this, George Hotz, founder of Comma.ai and creator of the Comma, took his marbles and went home.

(Start up company unveils $999 aftermarket self-driving system. Click Here for more.)

Fortunately, he did take the time to tweet about it as he figuratively walked out the door.

Someone suggested George Hotz seek another audience with Tesla founder Elon Musk.

He “would much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers.”

Hotz noted that the letter was the first time he’d heard from NHTSA, the agency tasked with making America’s Roads Safe Again, and described it as a “threat.”

Fortunately, he published the letter making it clear to all just how oppressive government intervention can be, especially on small business.

(For more on the Tesla autonomous vehicle announcement, Click Here.)

In its letter to him, NHTSA asked several difficult questions, including:

  • Describe how it is installed.
  • Describe the advanced driver assistance options in the system.
  • How does it work?
  • What vehicles is it compatible with?
  • What kind of weather and road conditions does it operate in?
  • What emergency and safety features does it have?

They had many more questions about Comma One. The agency asked him to provide all of the answers to their query by Nov. 10 or he could be subject to a fine of $21,000 a day. To be clear, NHTSA didn’t actually tell Hotz not to sell the device, it just warned him that it would be a bad idea.

“We are concerned that your product would put the safety of your customers and other road users at risk,” said Paul Hemmersbaugh, NHTSA’s chief counsel, in the letter.

“We strongly recommend you to delay selling or deploying your product on public roadways unless and until you can ensure it is safe.”

(Tesla CEO Musk warns that critics of autonomous vehicles are “killing people.” For the story, Click Here.)

Hotz tweet earned him a spate of responses calling him “naïve” and implying he was being childish and juvenile. One response summed it up thusly: “@comma_ai might want to talk to @elonmusk again?”

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2 Responses to “Comma One Maker Pulls Semi-Autonomous Add On Device”

  1. Bryan Morris says:

    I can’t think of a better use of the NHTSA’s regulatory power than protecting us from irresponsible schemers like this fly by night clown. The questions they were asking were entirely reasonable and they were just doing their job. I’d like to think that before any autonomous driving tech was allowed on the roads that it had to pass some pretty rigorous standardized testing and be granted approval by the agency empowered by us through our government to protect our safety on the roads.

  2. Anthony says:

    A let down … some company will get it right though. For now, definitely going with a new car with it built-in.