The famous, or infamous, haker Geohot is taking a run at self driving cars now.
George Hotz aka Geohot isn’t new to innovation, hacks & revolutionary measures. The first time he displayed these characteristics was as a lanky 17-year old. Back then, Hotz was introduced to the world as the young American hacker who broke down the security barriers that protected the iPhone, allowing users to unlock it and use it with carriers other than the designated AT&T.
Soon after, he tried the same hacking stunts with a Sony PlayStation 3 console and with some reverse engineering, not only managed to make a name for himself once again, but even managed to invite the wrath of Sony, which filed a suit against him. The issue was soon settled, but Hotz had made his mark on the tech world, even if it was through hacks that were a bit shady.
Hotz is now a mature-looking 26-year old, and these ‘skills’ of his that have managed to put the name Geohot on the front pages of tech magazines several times, have now inspired him to wade into the promising segment of self-driven cars. He has started off his journey with a 2016 Acura ILX which he worked single handedly on for only a few months but has somehow managed to draw some attention from some big hitters including Tesla and Andreessen Horowitz.
So how good is the tech coming out Geohot and what is the practical viability of the project in the real world?
Hotz first indicated that he was working on an artificially intelligent car in September 2015 with the startup Comma.ai. An interview with Bloomberg had Hotz revealing his plans to develop a self-driving car and a couple of months later in December, Hotz gave the world the first glimpse of his technology in action.
Tesla was among those corporations that had gone ahead and made their opinion known that although Hotz may have the technology and may even have got it all right, fine-tuning the last of the details and actually setting up a full-fledged product line was almost impossible. In short, Tesla has said that Hotz’s technology is no threat to them.
There’s a vast difference between 99 percent accuracy and 99.9999 percent accuracy was what Tesla had to say, indicating that Hotz didn’t really have the resources to iron out his technology.
“One can see this with the annual machine vision competitions, where the computer will properly identify something as a dog more than 99% of the time, but might occasionally call it a potted plant. Making such mistakes at 70 mph would be highly problematic,” said a blog post, the link to which was tweeted by Elon Musk.
Hotz however, has claimed that Tesla was among the first companies to offer to get his technology onboard, even offering a multimillion dollar bonus if the partnership worked well. Musk is said to have shot an email to Hotz with an offer for the young hacker’s technology could maybe replace Mobileye, the company that is currently handling Tesla’s autonomous driving technology. “I’m happy to work out a multimillion-dollar bonus with a longer time horizon that pays out as soon as we discontinue MobilEye,” the email is reported to have read.
Hotz, at his recent SXSW presentation “I Built a Better Self-Driven Car than Tesla”, revealed that the offer Musk made amounted to $12 million, with one million being deducted from the amount for every month that Hotz takes to perfect his own technology in comparison to MobilEye’s.
However, it turns out that Hotz wasn’t comfortable with certain clauses in the deal and found Musk’s conditions changing constantly and so he decided to opt out and give this venture a go all by himself.
— Michael Zhang (@mzhang07) March 14, 2016
Thus was born Comma.ai, the company that will launch Hotz’s version of the self-driving car, and an initial seed fund has already come Hotz’s way through Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm that has valued the company at around $20 million.
Then, there’s the team that has already been put together, with more additions likely – there’s already a “Hiring” link on Comma.ai, the official website – indicating that Hotz and his current team are looking for more hands on deck. Currently Yunus Saatchi, with a University of Cambridge PhD in AI, Jake Smith and Elizabeth Stark of Bitcoin fame are the initial members of Hotz’s exec team.
The dreams are laid out too. While Tesla has always maintained that its self-driving technology is mostly aimed at smooth drives on highways, Hotz aims to take on the city traffic quotient, claiming that his technology could prove to be more efficient than cars driven by humans.
“We believe our killer app is traffic. Humans are bad at traffic. We can make something that drives super-humanly smooth through traffic,” Hotz has said.
Then there’s the element of challenging corporations like Tesla and with the deal going bad with Musk has only made Hotz a highly driven person – pun unintended – to start with even more so now.
“I’m a big Elon fan, but I wish he didn’t jerk me around for three months. He can buy the technology for double.”
Ricardo Reyes, a spokesperson for Tesla, has replied with a cordial, “We wish him well.”
We’ve been witnessing Hotz’s extraordinary feats since he was a 17-year old, and now, his plans have certainly taken a leap into the future. There is no lack of brain juice (this young man knows his stuff and is putting together an excellent-looking team) and neither is there a lack of drive (Hotz is already taking on corporations like Tesla, even if it is only through wordplay for now).
The only issue seems putting together a technology that is perfect, finding the resources to do this and then finding even more resources to put the innovation into production mode.
We’ll keep you updated on when you can get your hands on Hotz’s revolutionary self-driven Comma car. In the meantime, we’ll simply have to keep an eye out for a 2016 Acura ILX with the driver chilling out behind the wheel while the car seems to drive itself!
“Yeah, of course there will be skepticism. This is part of a great adventure. All I can say is, ‘Watch.’”
Hotz said when he had first given the world a peek into his self-driven piece of technology and at SXSW. He also revealed that the delivery schedule of the first unit in the production line is pegged at December 2016. As for the price, “How much? Cheap!” is what Hotz exclaims.
Well, George Francis Hotz Jr., the world is certainly watching you now for all the right reasons, but the question is, can deliver?