26 Year Old Hacker Is Bringing Self-Driving Cars To The Masses

26 Year Old Hacker Is Bringing Self-Driving Cars To The Masses

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You may not know who George Hotz (aka geohot) is, but many have enjoyed the fruits of his labours. In fact, he is something of a legend on the hacking scene. In 2007, then 17-year-old Hotz was the first to carrier-unlock Apple’s iPhone, allowing consumers to use it with mobile providers other than AT&T, against the carrier’s and manufacturer’s wishes. He then went on to release jailbreaking tools for the iPhone, allowing device owners to install apps not authorised by Apple, before intentionally slipping back to obscurity. Now, he’s back.

Hotz is now working on another breakthrough technology, and he’s competing against some of the biggest names in the game. The 26-year-old is in the business of self-driving cars, and it seems business is good. Hotz’s six-month-young startup, Comma.ai, has just received a much needed cash injection of $3.1 million from top Venture Capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Comma.ai is developing a kit that could make any old car into a semi-autonomous vehicles. Last October, Hotz purchased some cameras, GoPro mounts, a 2016 Honda Acura to fix them to, and started chugging away at it in his San Francisco garage. He intends to be all but done by year end 2016.

The aim is to provide consumers with a $1,000 kit that will be as easy to install as is “setting up a piece of IKEA furniture.”

Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, was skeptical at first, he wrote in a piece for Medium. But skepticism soon gave way to enthusiasm after he learnt of Hotz’s work on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and got a chance to test the car. He now now describes Hotz as “brilliant.”

Just over a year ago, in January 2015, Hotz started working for Vicarious, a company working AI algorithms. Describing his experiences there after quitting just half a year later, Hotz said: “I started reading all the papers. I thought, ‘This stuff isn’t that hard. This isn’t ultra sophisticated. This is basic.’”

Hotz turned to Tesla, hoping to partner up with Elon Musk, but the deal never materialised. He decided to go solo. Hotz employs just four people, all working and living in his San Francisco house, but he gets and reviews about 100 applications each day.

“I started to look around at the other players. These people are noobs,” he said of his competitors. Maybe it’s just youthful bravado, but if this upstart pulls off another upset he’ll be disrupting a second emerging industry in less than a decade.