Think about driving home after a long, soul-killing day at work, full of continuous browser window swapping between Facebook, Jalopnik, YouTube and an excel spreadsheet full of random numbers so people think you’re actually working. Do you really want to fight traffic and sit through an endless number of stoplights, when you could be using that valuable time instead to browse Facebook, Jalopnik and YouTube?
Even if you have the most sophisticated Tesla or Volvo or Mercedes, that’s still kind of a pipe dream for now. But imagine pushing a button and instantly turning your car—your current, everyday car—into your personal robotic chauffeur. Autonomous capability that you could turn on and off at will seems pretty appealing, doesn’t it?
Welcome to the world of autonomous driving aftermarket kits. And while they’re still in their earliest stages, they could be a win-win for gearheads everywhere who love to drive—just not in traffic.
Since driverless cars are not only inevitable but increasingly prevalent, whether you want them to be or not, a self-driving kit that you can install in your own car represents the best of both worlds. This means that you get to keep your own car, but it could be autonomous whenever needed. This way, some day, if the government mandates that all cars on the road must drive themselves, you could still hang onto your AMG—as long as it’s outfitted with a self-driving kit. You’ll just have to make sure you don’t illegally sneak in some driving, or this could happen:
Self-driving enforcement officer: Sir, did I see your hands on the wheel?
You: Yes, sorry, can I get a warning this time, please? I just really wanted to drive.
Self-driving enforcement officer: Fine, but next time, no hands on the steering wheel or feet on the pedals—ever. Just sit in the back and look at your phone or something.
Cruise Automation was one of the first startups to create a self-driving kit that would work on normal Audi A4s and S4s. It’s unfortunate that they got acquired by General Motors, because now instead of having badass German rocket-sleds that drive themselves, Cruise Automation is busy turning a Chevrolet Bolt into a roving robot. I suppose they will go down the more lucrative path of making their technology commercially viable instead of building driverless kits for consumers. Can’t blame them.
Luckily other startups have been inspired by Cruise Automation and are trying to do the whole self-driving retrofit thing. The hardware for driverless cars already exists which include things like LIDAR, cameras, radar, sensors. Tesla has already stated that all its newly produced cars will come with the necessary hardware to make them fully autonomous—all that’s remaining is a software update. The software is ultimately what will let the Tesla drive itself and decide which unavoidable obstacle on the road to hit: the pack of innocent adorable schoolchildren, or the litter of adorable puppies.
But don’t worry, you won’t have to face that dilemma—the machine will! Let’s hope that the software can make the right decision. Here are a few of the startups that are working hard to make that happen.
Comma.ai looked promising early on because its founder, George Hotz actually built a self-driving kit, called the Comma One for $999. Hotz was so convinced they would make it big that he made T-shirts that said “We’re gonna be so rich.”
I guess they will have to wait to be rich, because they shut down operations a few weeks ago. This was in response to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when it asked Hotz about what safety measures were in place. Hotz decided that it wasn’t worth it to deal with the government.
Instead, he tweeted this: