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Why a Hacker Is Giving Away a Special Code That Turns Cars Into Self-Driving Machines


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Prototype driverless cars under development for Uber.

Self-driving-car start-up Comma.ai released a free software kit to help developers learn to build a device that can turn any car into an autonomous vehicle.

Credit: Brian Fung

The founder of startup Comma.ai has released a free software kit to the developer community in an effort to accelerate autonomous vehicle technology without running afoul of regulators.

Comma.ai founder and hacker George Hotz shifted strategy when his original plan to sell the do-it-yourself self-driving hardware/software kit was complicated because the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) demanded details about the product's safety. Hotz says, "we want to be the Android operating system for self-driving cars."

The code, available on GitHub, makes it possible for anyone to build a three-dimensionally printable dashboard camera-like device for their automobile, which plugs into the car's controller area network. When activated, the vehicle enters an autopilot mode, enabling the driver to take their hands off the wheel and the accelerator. The car also will stay in its lane and brake by itself, with the camera scanning the road.

Despite warnings from NHTSA and other watchdogs, Hotz says the kit is exempt from self-driving regulations and dismisses claims the product could enable hackers to break into cars. "This [tool] is for tinkerers," he says. "These are people who, if they wanted to do bad things, they already could."

From The Washington Post
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