George Hotz is a well-known Apple hacker. He was, at 17 years old, the first known person to hack into the iPhone, allowing anyone with a bit of know-how to use the device on a network other than AT&T which was, at the time, the only network that the iPhone was offered on. Later on he hacked into devices like the Sony PlayStation 3 and opened it up as well.
Over the past few years, however, Hotz has been a little quiet. Well, quiet until now. Recently he sat down with a reporter from Bloomberg to show off his newest project – a self-driving car that he assembled together in a month.
Of course, the car itself isn’t perfect. Hotz is currently really only testing it out on the highway, and even then, it makes mistakes. But it is a working system. It rounds bends well, and corrects itself when someone else on the road does something it didn’t expect.
Self-driving cars in general are taking off. Work on them first began around 10 years ago, when DARPA, the research section of the Department of Defense, began sponsoring the Grand Challenge, a competition to see how far autonomous cars could drive. The course was 150 miles, and the best performing car completed 7.
While in the early days of self-driving cars it took a lot of technology to put them together, now, Hotz suggests that consumer grade cameras and artificial-intelligence software are both good enough to allow anyone with enough knowledge to create a self-driving system for almost any car on the market. In fact, Hotz says that his technology, while not as complex as automakers, could rival them. Short term he things his technology could beat the tech from Mobileye, which supplies tech to Tesla, BMW, GM, and Ford.
Of course, Yonah Lloyd, a spokesperson for Mobileye, says that its technology is anything but outdated.
“Our code is based on the latest and modern AI techniques using end-to-end deep network algorithms for sensing and control,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg. The company’s technology relies on a chip and customer software to guide cars along the highway, and while the tech has been out for a while now, automakers haven’t been marketing it until now. Tesla is a major client, however even Tesla admits that Mobileye’s technology is only one part of an entire system inside of Tesla cars.
Hotz is now the head of a company, called Comma.ai. The company aims to sell the technology needed for anyone to turn their car into a self-driving car. It also hopes to supply technology to the likes of Tesla, cutting out Mobileye, which Hotz thinks is inferior, and replacing it with Comma.ai. Hotz isn’t yet close to a consumer product, but he says it is in development.
Hotz himself has a long history in tech. He’s done a number of internships at Google, and worked at both Facebook and SpaceX. He was offered a job by Elon Musk after being introduced to the Tesla CEO by a friend. He turned that job down, simply saying that he’ll get back in touch with Musk after he crushes Mobileye.
It will, of course, be very interesting to see whether or not Hotz can cut out Mobileye, and whether or not he can secure major contracts with the likes of Tesla and potentially even Apple. His technology could be the go-to for self-driving tech, similar to how Qualcomm is the go-to for mobile processors.
Of course, all of this could have some big implications for Apple. Apple is said to be developing its own self-driving electric car, and its main competitor is set to be Tesla. If Tesla’s technology ends up drastically improving, it could put Apple at a disadvantage. On the flipside, Hotz could ironically be a great fit for Apple. Ironically because Hotz got his start as an Apple hacker, and it could be interesting to see him return to his Apple roots. In any case, George Hotz is a figure to keep an eye on. He’s likely to play a big part in the future of self-driving cars, especially if his claims turn out to be true.