Bloomberg Business has a profile this week of George Hotz — better known to some as "Geohot," a pioneer in the early iPhone jailbreaking scene that let owners put custom apps on their devices for the first time. Now, he's got a very different hobby: making an autonomous car based on an ordinary Acura ILX sedan. It seems to actually work, sort of, which is especially incredible considering that he's working on it alone and he just started on the project in October.
Hotz, a prodigy who has spent years bouncing between high-tech jobs that he hasn't found intellectually satisfying, is going it alone with a company he calls comma.ai. His goal is to take down Mobileye, a supplier of driving assistance systems that helps power Tesla's Autopilot system, among others in the auto industry. Intriguingly, Bloomberg reports that Hotz's work has caught the attention of Elon Musk himself, who had offered him a job working on homegrown Autopilot software — "I'm happy to work out a multimillion-dollar bonus with a longer time horizon that pays out as soon as we discontinue Mobileye," Musk is said to have emailed — but Hotz declined, citing Musk's ever-changing deal terms.
He turned down a job at Tesla with a "multimillion-dollar" bonus
Hotz says his system is substantially different from those on the market today, because he doesn't rely on preprogrammed rules about driving; everything his system knows is through artificially intelligent deep learning that it gathered by "watching" Hotz drive. (He says he'll be driving Uber for a few months to train the system rapidly.) The problem may be that an optimal self-driving car doesn't always behave like a human driver — humans make mistakes, and many of us simply aren't very good drivers in the first place — but perhaps substantial learning from a wide set of drivers would even it out over time.
There's no immediate plans for commercialization; Hotz just started working on this a few weeks ago, after all, and the interior of the ILX looks like a mess of computers, modules, and wires. But longer term, he'd like to sell his system to automakers or as a kit directly to consumers for about $1,000 (California-based Cruise is trying to do something similar). In a few months, he plans to film a video of his system "outperforming" a Model S in Autopilot mode across the Golden Gate Bridge, which Tesla's system apparently struggles with due to poor lane markings. After that, perhaps Musk — or any one of the dozens of other companies going full-bore on autonomous tech — will make him an offer he can't refuse.