Well, this sounds good, fun and safe: after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration inquired about the safety of a semi-autonomous add-on kit made by Comma.ai, the company killed off the project altogether. But it didn’t stay dead long, and the software is now being offered to the public for free.
Comma.ai CEO and the guy who hacked the iPhone, George Hotz, introduced the Comma One driving kit at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF in September and claimed it could turn a non-autonomous car into a semi-autonomous one—basically, an add-on driver-assistance system meant to be used with the full attention of the driver.
Currently, the technology only works on select Honda and Acura models. By the end of 2015, Hotz modified his own Acura ILX to have autonomous capabilities that rivaled Tesla’s Autopilot assistance system. Tesla has since made major updates to its technology.
As for the add-on kit Hotz made, he planned to begin selling it for $999 by the end of 2016 with a software subscription fee of $24 per month.
Hotz called the kit a “fancy cruise control,” but the NHTSA wasn’t having that: it sent a letter in October encouraging Hotz to “delay selling or deploying [the] product on the public roadways and until [he could] ensure it safe.”
Hotz killed the project off, tweeting that he “would much rather spend [his] life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers.”
But now! Less than two months later, the project isn’t exactly dead. Reuters reports that on Wednesday, Comma.ai announced that it had open sourced the software code and robotics research platform used in the Comma One assistance system. However, the software itself won’t magically make a car steer, because those who choose to download it need to set up a device in order for it to start working.
Hotz also posted a guide for building that device, according to Reuters. From the report:
“From this, you should be able to replicate our initial ... experiments,” Hotz wrote in a letter on the company’s website.
Comma.ai has compiled more than seven hours of highway driving into a dataset that the public can download.
Hotz cautions that the technology is “alpha quality software,” which indicates the very early stages of development and may require fixes.
How the NHTSA will feel about this one is, well, yet to be seen. The report also added that two Reuters reporters went on a test drive with Hotz in September, and here’s how the article said that went down:
During the drive, the device lost connection with the vehicle sensors that locate other cars on the road, prompting Hotz to pull off at an exit, restart the car and reboot the device. The test car also had difficulty steering itself onto freeway on-ramps, forcing Hotz to grab the wheel.
Wow, free stuff that the NHTSA doesn’t want people buying and that may or may not require drivers to pull off of the road and fix it. Comforting.