Self-Driving Engineering with George Hotz

In the smartphone market there are two dominant operating systems: one closed source (iPhone) and one open source (Android). The market for self-driving cars could play out the same way, with a company like Tesla becoming the closed source iPhone of cars, and a company like Comma.ai developing the open source Android of self-driving cars.

George Hotz is the CEO of Comma.ai. Comma makes hardware devices that allow users with “normal” cars to be augmented with advanced cruise control and lane assist features. This means you can take your own car–for example, a Toyota Prius–and outfit your car to have something similar to the Tesla Autopilot. Comma’s hardware devices cost under $1000 to order online.

George joins the show to explain how the Comma hardware and software stack works in detail–from the low level interface with a car’s CAN bus to the high level machine learning infrastructure.

Users who purchase the Comma.ai hardware drive around with a camera facing the front of their windshield. This video is used to orient the state of the car in space. The video from that camera also gets saved and uploaded to Comma’s servers. Comma can use this video together with labeled events from the user’s driving experience to crowdsource their model for self-driving.

For example, if a user is driving down a long stretch of highway, and they turn on the Comma.ai driving assistance, the car will start driving itself and the video capture will begin. If the car begins to swerve into another lane, the user will take over for the car and the Comma system will disengage. This “disengagement” event gets labeled as such, and when that data makes it back to Comma’s servers, Comma can use the data to update their models.

George is very good at explaining complex engineering topics, and is also quite entertaining and open to discussing the technology as well as other competitors in the autonomous car space. I have not been able to get many other people on the show to talk about autonomous cars, so this was quite refreshing! I hope to do more in the future.

Transcript

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