George Hotz, known online as GeoHot, became one of the world's most famous hackers at 17 when he was the first person to break into the iPhone and reconfigure it to be compatible with providers other than AT&T. He was also the first to jailbreak the PlayStation 3, allowing users to play with unauthorized software.
Now this 28-year-old technical wunderkind is up against Waymo, Tesla, Uber, and most of the auto industry in the race to build the first fully operational autonomous vehicle.
"I want to win self-driving cars," Hotz told Reason. Whereas Tesla and Waymo are developing complex systems with expensive LIDAR and other sensors, his company, Comma.ai, is trying to bring plug-and-play driverless technology to the masses. "We're running it on a phone," says Hotz.
He's taking an approach drastically different than his well-financed competition, and is operating with $3.1 million in seed money. Comma's dozen-member team, which works out of a residential house in San Francisco, has built technology that takes over the existing RADAR and drive-by-wire systems in modern cars, incorporates a smartphone's camera and processor, and then makes the car drive itself.
"Google is going to lose because there's no market for a $100,000 system," says Hotz. "For us, we're just going to push the software update. And then—boom—you don't have to pay attention anymore. Done."
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