This is George Hotz. He’s a bit of a character. He’s 26 and lives in San Francisco. At the age of 17, under the name “geohot”, he became the first person to unlock the iPhone. Shortly after he started working on the Sony Playstation 3 and became the first one to hack that too.
Now he’s decided to work on something that the mighty Google and big car companies are working on – a self-driving car. Trouble is, despite his comma.ai website and his brand-new white Acura ILX, he doesn’t have millions to spend and lives in a shared house with a “changing cast of 5 to 10 geeks”. He occupies the bottom of the property and the garage. There are pizza boxes, a mattress and car parts strewn everywhere. His work-area has two monitors, a laptop, a big display screen and he sits in front of the car – next to a water-heater. Behind him is the car, which is sits plugged into his home network and mains power whilst in the garage.
The car itself is kitted out with a joystick and a huge monitor. The on-board computer, which is a mini-PC jammed into the glovebox, runs Linux. On the roof is a laser-based radar (lidar) system and there’s tiny cameras dotted around the cabin. It’s all a little makeshift and verges on the insane. George shows off his technology and casually passes a wireless keyboard to the passenger, “But don’t touch any buttons, or we’ll die.”
His methods are insanely clever, and he’s plugged into the car by applying online to become an authorized Honda service centre. He got accepted, and this got him into all the schematics, manuals and technology details he needed to connect to the car he’s purchased. Inside, GPS units, a USB hub, a power inverter and a network switch are taped in with cables running around the windscreen.
He’s also keen to ensure that the on-board computer doesn’t drive the car like… a computer. It learns by watching other drivers and uses high-speed graphics cards to run intelligent decisions whilst on the move. Currently it’s meant for the motorways – a bit like the Tesla system we saw some weeks back – but there’s huge potential here. He plans, eventually, to use just six smartphone cameras to make the system work instead of a LIDAR system on the roof. The total cost? He hopes it’ll be less than $1,000.
I’m going to stop talking here and show you a brilliant video. I’d implore you to read the Bloomberg Business article where they meet up with George and take a look at this fantastic project, but here’s the video filmed by Bloomberg. Really, give it a watch. This guy is really intelligent and has a style about what he does – note the little things like the “Engage” button on his console. I just found all this hugely interesting..
Oh, and there’s quite a bit of media hype surrounding this. Tesla have cast doubt on just how good the comma.ai system is, but either way, it’s great to see such competitiveness and cleverness going on in this arena.