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George Hotz says Comma.ai's self-driving system will be better than Super Cruise

How George Hotz plans to beat GM at its own self-driving game.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
3 min read

At the Mapbox Locate conference last week in San Francisco, Comma.ai founder George Hotz made a bold proclamation: That his company's plug-and-play semi-automated drive hardware will be better than General Motors' Cadillac Super Cruise by the end of 2018.

"We are going to roll out our maps in a few months and we're training new models on our four million miles of driving data. We are going to show that we will get less unplanned disengagements by the end of the year," said Hotz.

Hotz also hinted that something else would be "rolling out" but wouldn't give any specifics.

Best known as the teenager who was first to hack an Apple iPhone, Hotz has been involved with his startup, Comma.ai, since late 2015. We first spoke with Hotz in 2016 as he was just launching Chiffr, a crowdsourcing application that drivers can use to monitor their driving habits and upload the data to Comma.ai. That in turn would come to train the company's AI driving system.

Fast-forward to 2018, and Hotz says the company has collected 4 million miles of data, raised $5 million in funding and launched the Eon dashcam developer kit. That $700 piece of hardware includes a camera, navigation and access to streaming music, as well as the Chiffrplus app, sending even more data back to Comma.ai. For those who just want to collect and upload their data, the company's Panda OBD-II plug-in dongle is $99 and allows drivers to access their data without the fancy -- and pricey -- dashcam.

Though we got a ride with Hotz in a highly automated Acura test car in 2016, none of that car's technology is currently on sale. Instead, Comma.ai is now testing its hardware on HondaAcura and Toyota vehicles.The technology forces the human to touch the steering wheel every six minutes -- a very long time by industry standards -- but Hotz says the company will replace that interval with a driver-facing camera so that the system won't disengage unless the driver is not looking forward, or the car encounters an unknown scenario.

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GM's Super Cruise features a driver monitor and a capacitive-touch wheel with built-in warning lights.


By comparison, Cadillac's Super Cruise is currently geofenced to only work on highways that have been lidar mapped and analyzed by GM engineers -- pretty much America's entire interstate system and most major highways. If the stored data doesn't match up to what the CT6 actually "sees" due to construction, weather, or other factors, Super Cruise will deactivate. The technology also features a small infrared camera looking at the driver, keeping tabs on attention levels, as well as a capacitive-touch steering wheel so that the car can detect when the driver's hands are on the wheel. Spending too much time looking at the radio or out of the side window will also cause Super Cruise to warn the driver and eventually, disengage.

Comma.ai has its own Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise, and Hotz says the company will spend the next few months in head-to-head testing. The goal is to have fewer unplanned disengagements by the end of the year. It's open-sourced data vs pre-mapped data: Two data collection methods enter, one leaves.

Back in 2016, Hotz said his self-driving hardware would cost around $1,000. However, in a June, 2017 Medium post, he upped that prediction to $5,000 plus a monthly subscription fee.