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Autos

Hacker quits plan to sell a $999 self-driving car kit

George Hotz
George Hotz at the Western Automotive Journalists conference in Mountain View on Oct 10.
(Russ Mitchell / Los Angeles Times)

George Hotz, legendary hacker and Silicon Valley iconoclast, planned to start selling a $999 autonomous driving upgrade kit by the end of the year. The kit, he said, would transform a regular car into a sophisticated driver assist package on par with Tesla’s Autopilot.

He dropped those plans in a huff after safety regulators told him to answer some questions before he could start selling the thing.

“Would much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers,” the 27-year-old Hotz said in a tweet. “It isn’t worth it.”

Hotz — also known as “geohot” — planned to start with a kit that would fit with an Acura ILX, and move on to other cars. On top of the $999 for the kit, his company, Comma.ai, would charge $24 a month for software updates.

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That’s far cheaper, of course, than new cars being sold with driver-assist technologies such as automatic braking and lane-keeping, many of which sell for $50,000 and more. A fully equipped Tesla Model S goes for well over $100,000.

But Hotz was put off by a letter he received dated Thursday from the chief counsel of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The letter demanded “full compliance with your legal responsibilities” and directed Hotz to answer a series of questions about the product and how it worked.

Dealing with regulators and lawyers was too much for Hotz, who could not be reached.

Hotz gained fame as a hacker at age 17 when he wrote “jailbreak” programs for the then-new iPhone so they’d work on cheaper networks.

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He also achieved notoriety for hacks and attempted hacks into other smartphones and the Sony PlayStation. Sony sued Hotz and reached an out-of-court settlement.

All major auto manufacturers are working on some form of semi-autonomous cars, and some, including Ford and Volvo, have announced plans to begin selling fully self-driving cars within the next several years.

Those companies are working closely with safety regulators, as is Tesla. In an earnings call with stock analysts last week, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said Tesla works “very closely on a daily basis, and have for a long time with NHTSA and other regulatory agencies around the world really at a very detailed level.”

russ.mitchell@latimes.com

Twitter: @russ1mitchell


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