Almost a year to the day after George Hotz canceled plans for selling a $999 after-market product that would gift certain cars semi-autonomous capabilities, the famed iPhone hacker is back with a similar piece of hardware from his company Comma.ai. But this time around, the open source product — called Eon — costs $699 and is more DIY dashcam than a shortcut to self-driving.
“You need three things on your dashboard: a dashcam, navigation, and music,” reads the order site for Eon. “Eon is all three. Eon is your new dashboard.”
Like a dashcam mashed up with an infotainment system
The general idea with Eon, which is built out of “phone parts, a PCB, a case, a cooling solution, and a solid mount,” Hotz says via email, is that you’ll stick it to your car’s windshield just under the rear view mirror. From there, it will operate much like a typical dashcam, always watching, recording, and logging the data from your drives.
But, since the device runs Android, it will be able to do double- or triple-duty by running apps like Waze and Spotify as well, making it a sort of punk rock alternative to CarPlay or Android Auto. “We want to replace your existing low quality OEM dashboard. We want to make you love your in-car experience,” the company writes in the post announcing Eon.
Of course, this isn’t just about a dashcam, navigation, and music. The Eon can also be plugged into and get data from Panda, the OBDII dongle that Hotz started selling earlier this year. And if you own a compatible Toyota or Honda, you can tie those two devices to a third, the Giraffe, which plugs into those cars’ driver assistance systems, according to Comma.ai.
Hotz stresses that this isn’t some kind of backdoor to turn Eon into the product he was selling last year, which was called Comma One. It had a similar design to Eon (though much rougher around the edges), and the idea was that it could be used to drive the car by tapping into the driver assistance hardware on those compatible Toyotas and Hondas.
But Hotz killed Comma One when the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent his company a letter urging it to delay the product until it was thoroughly tested for safety. He wrote at the time that he “would much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers,” and a few months later announced open source plans for the hardware and software that powered Comma One. (I got a ride in a Honda powered by a version of this earlier this year.)
Eon is “not designed to drive a car”
“The Comma One was a self driving car kit, but due to regulations it was cancelled. The Eon is a dashcam, it's not designed to drive a car,” Hotz says. He argues the connection to Panda and Giraffe just increases the amount of data accessible to Eon, and developers or tinkerers can take it from there. Panda, for example, helps decipher most of a car’s CAN buses, and Giraffe, he says, lets users access data from things like the car’s radar system so Eon could generate “more accurate forward collision warnings.”
The Comma.ai website (and its announcement post) is full of warnings like Hotz’s, but is equally dressed in promises that Eon is “more than just a dashcam.” (Though immediately before that the post says “This product is designed to be a dashcam.”)
There’s also (of course) at least one sly shot at Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO that Hotz has feuded with on and off since he entered the self-driving tech market two years ago, buried in all of this. On Eon order page, it says that the product runs the highest quality music and navigation apps in the world, referring to Spotify and Waze. Then, immediately after that: “It doesn't run slacker radio or Mapquest.” Slacker Radio is the only music streaming service offered inside a Tesla.