George Hotz and his team of automotive hackers at comma.ai are on a mission to liberate autonomous driving from the corporate overlords that have ruled the space since its inception — even if it means snubbing the authorities at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
His journey to conquer the status quo has led him on a bumpy journey where he initially sought to develop an aftermarket plug-and-play autonomous driving solution known as the Comma One that would enable drivers to add intelligence to a select set of vetted vehicles. The NHTSA was less than enthusiastic about his approach and reached out to him with a cautionary letter that, with his sordid history with Sony and its Playstation 3, was enough to cause him to adjust Comma’s product trajectory.
Comma’s team has currently developed a set of hardware based around a customized build of the popular One Plus smartphone, dubbed the Eon. The Eon reads info from the car via a custom hardware dongle called the Panda that pulls data from the vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port (OBD-II). To issue commands back to the car, the team developed the Giraffe which issues commands back to the car via the CAN bus.
How do these hardware components help Comma avoid the wrath of the NHTSA? Well, they don’t come with any of the software required to actually run the car. That is conveniently available as open source software that anyone can download without having to purchase any of Comma’s hardware. George shared with The Verge that, “We aren’t selling any products that control a car. We are giving away free software, and software is speech.” It’s a creative take on the regulations set by the NHTSA that seems destined to run afoul of the law eventually but until then, hey, keep on rockin’ while it’s workin’.
George met with The Verge to demo the latest version of the Comma solution which now includes driver monitoring. The standard location for Comma’s Eon unit is up near or in place of the rear view mirror in the vehicle which also gives the front-facing camera a great angle on the driver.
Taking advantage of the existing hardware lets the solution recognize the driver’s face and take action if it notices unsafe behavior. For instance, if it notices that the driver is looking down or away from the road for more than 2 seconds, a visual alert will pop up. The efficacy of a visual alert for a driver known to be looking away is a bit counterintuitive but is also just the first step in the alert escalation.
If the driver is distracted for more than 6 consecutive seconds, openpilot remains engaged, but it gently decelerates, eventually all the way down to a complete stop, and keeps beeping until the driver disengages openpilot. These escalations complement triggers for a seat belt being unlatched or a door opening, both of which start a 4-second grace period where the driver is prompted to take control before the system disengages.
Comma’s solution goes beyond autopilot and offers customers the ability to stream music from the device as well as dashcam functionality that potentially offsets some of the purchase price of the unit for customers already considering one of the many dashcam solutions on the market.
For more information about Comma’s solution or to purchase a kit that enables “ghostriding for the masses,” head over to comma.ai.