Comma.ai’s board, of which founder George Hotz is the only member, is making changes at the autonomous driving startup: Hotz is no longer CEO of the company.
A new CEO, who Hotz declined to name, is expected to be announced Friday via the company’s Medium blog. He confirmed that the CEO is indeed a human and a “very talented one,” Hotz told TechCrunch.
Hotz, who gained worldwide fame under the hacker alias “geohot” when he cracked the iPhone and PlayStation 3 as a teenager, isn’t leaving the company he founded. Instead, Hotz and two others are part of a new division called Comma.ai research that will focus on building out behavioral models that can drive cars.
Comma.ai found the “right product market fit” during his three-year tenure as CEO, Hotz said.
“We have very good growth numbers, now it’s time to get the slope on growth even higher,” said Hotz, who is the company’s majority shareholder. “It’s much more of an execution problem now than a vision problem. And perhaps I’m not the best executor.”
Hotz said the company needed someone to scale the team from the 15 people who are there now to the “50 required to put out a real consumer product,” as well as work on reducing cost of the product and deal with regulators.
Hotz may be out as CEO, but he insists the fundamental ethos of the company won’t change.
“We’ve always been the North Korea of self-driving companies; we are driven by nobody else’s agenda,” he said. “That’s not going to change.”
And he’s still interested in self-driving cars.
“Eventually, what I want to do with my life is I want to solve AI,” Hotz said. “And I think that self-driving cars are still the coolest applied AI problem today.”
Comma.ai initially aimed to sell a $999 aftermarket self-driving car kit that would give certain vehicle models highway-driving assistance abilities similar to Tesla’s Autopilot feature. Hotz canceled those plans in October 2016 after receiving a letter from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration.
Five weeks later, Comma.ai released its self-driving software to the world. All of the code, as well as plans for the hardware, was posted on GitHub.
Today, Comma.ai has an ecosystem of products — the Eon, Panda and Giraffe — all aimed at bringing semi-autonomous driving capabilities to cars. Drivers who buy and install them in their cars can bypass the driver-assistance systems in specific vehicles — right now late-model Hondas and Toyotas — and run Comma.ai’s open-source driving software instead.
The Eon is a dashcam dev kit based on Android that can run Waze, Spotify and Comma.ai’s open-source dashcam app chffrplus, which lets car owners record and review their drives. The Panda is a $99 universal car interface that plugs into a vehicle’s OBD-II port and gives users access to the internal communications networks (known as a vehicle bus) that interconnects components in a vehicle.
The Giraffe is an adapter board that gives users access to other CAN buses not exposed on the main OBD-II connector. This allows commands to be issued to the car via software.
Pull all of these together and a vehicle has Comma.ai’s version of lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control. TechCrunch rode in one of these Comma.ai-equipped vehicles in July.
More than 500 cars are now using either open pilot or chffr, Hotz said, adding that this fleet is sending data back to Comma.ai. The company has collected more than 5 million miles of driving data.
“We’re using all of that data to create behavioral models of human driving,” Hotz said. “We’re now very good at localizing that driving data, figuring out exactly where the car actually went. So from that and the data, how do we actually train models to drive like humans.”