When George Hotz announced this past September he would be releasing Comma One, a $999 do-it-yourself self-driving car kit, the tech world was understandably excited. The government was understandably less excited.
After being sent a warning letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) questioning the safety of his self-driving car kit, Hotz decided to cancel plans to sell Comma One. Now, instead, he’s just giving it away. Say hello to Comma Neo.
Hotz has released the company’s self-driving car software, along with all of the hardware plans needed to make the software work, for free on Github. Before you start taking apart your car, though, there are a few things you need to know.
First, the plans articulated in the Github only work on a few specific brands of Honda and Acuras. Second, the project requires a special Android OS called NeOS that only works on the OnePlus 3 phone. Also, builders will need access to a 3D printer to build the Comma Neo’s housing.
The Comma Neo works by creating a dashcam-like setup with the OnePlus 3 and NeOS, which plugs into the controller area network on your car. When the autopilot is activated, the car becomes semi-autonomous. It won’t be able to handle difficult routes, but the car can stay in its lane and brake for obstacles. Autopilot needs to be actively kept on and will turn itself off and slow down the vehicle after six minutes if the driver doesn’t monitor it.
Regarding the safety of using the auto-pilot feature, Hotz explained exactly what is expected of drivers in an October blog post.
With all these Tesla autopilot like systems, it is very important that you pay attention. This system does not remove any of the driver's responsibilities from the task of driving. We provide two safety guarantees:
1. Enforced disengagements. Step on either pedal or press the cancel button to retake full manual control of the car immediately.
2. Actuation limits. While the system is engaged, the actuators are constrained to operate within reasonable limits; the same limits used by the stock system on the Honda.
Even if you don’t have plans to build your own Comma Neo, the files in the Github are well worth taking a little time to poke around, if only to gain a better understanding of how this technology works. Have you ever wondered how to train a deep neural network for self-steering cars? Here you go. There’s even a gif.
By giving away his plans, Hotz can skirt guidelines for the NHTSA, which only regulates commercial vehicles, at least for now. The federal government has a new relationship with self-driving cars. It didn’t publish an official policy on automated vehicles until this past September, the same month Hotz announced plans to sell his kit.