TECH: Comma One Makes Your Car Semi-Autonomous

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Autonomous technology is increasingly common in today’s new cars. If you’re buying a new car, then that’s great news. If you’re stuck driving your old car, then it’s technology you don’t have access to yet. Comma.ai aims to change that with a device that can turn your regular car into a semi-autonomous one.

It’s called Comma One and it’s a $999 add-on that will be shipping by the end of the year. There’s also a $24 monthly subscription so the cost of this will add up pretty quick. Comma.ai founder George Hotz made the company’s big announcement at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

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Hotz said they’ve been working on the device for about a year and that it will only work on certain vehicles at the start. If you happen to own a Honda or an Acura with lane-keeping assist, then you’re in luck. Initially shipped quantities will be low, but this is only the beginning and they hope to have their kit available for more cars over time.

It isn’t some complex, wire-laden monstrosity that requires a degree in engineering to install. It’s small enough to mount on your windshield right under your rearview mirror. The device includes built-in front radars and a camera and it records video data that will help with future development.

Much like semi-autonomous features that come in new cars, this isn’t a substitute for a human driver. Whoever is behind the wheel still needs to pay attention. Comma One will complete a drive from start to finish without the driver touching the steering wheel, brakes, or gas, but that driver still needs to be there in case something goes wrong.

There’s a beta test happening in San Francisco, so anyone willing to be a guinea pig can reach out to the Hotz at george@comma.ai and get in on things early. Otherwise, it’s the end of the year if all continues as planned.

If this makes you a little nervous, you’re not alone. Autonomous technology is still very new, it’s the western frontier of automotive development and even companies building it into new vehicles are facing challenges.

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Tesla’s Autopilot system has been in the news for a recent fatality and several accidents. Much like Comma One, a human driver is still required and is supposed to be paying attention when using Autopilot, but it doesn’t look like every driver has been following that advice.

That’s the scary part of this technology. It might work, but if humans are still required to be participants, then it’s risky. We notoriously do not pay attention as we should behind the wheel even when we have vehicles without any autonomous features.

The security blanket Comma One provides stands a good chance of having people pay even less attention to the road. That isn’t a good thing this early in the game.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin