After being pressured by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to delay selling its Comma One semi-autonomous driving kit, Comma.ai has cancelled the Tesla Autopilot-like system.
Comma.ai CEO George Hotz launched Comma One last month at TechCrunch Disrupt SF. He said the $999 aftermarket device won’t turn your car into a self-driving vehicle, but that it’s the equivalent of Tesla Autopilot without having to buy a new car.
However, the NHTSA sent Hotz a letter on October 27, 2016 (read it below) that said “we are concerned that your product would put the safety of your customers and other road users at risk. We strongly encourage you to delay selling or deploying your product on the public roadways unless and until you can ensure it is safe. It is insufficient to assert, as you do, that your product ‘does not remove any of the driver’s responsibilities from the task of driving.’ As you are undoubtedly aware, there is a high likelihood that some drivers will use your product in a manner that exceeds its intended purpose.”
If Comm.ai didn’t comply with the NHTSA by November 10, 2016, it would be fined $21,000 per day. So Hotz decided to cancel Comma One and explore other markets outside the United States, and other products.
On October 20, 2016, Comma.ai posted a blog on its website called “On the safety and legality of the comma one.” The blog was a warning that Comma One will not turn your car into a self-driving vehicle and that it’s “very important that you pay attention.” Here’s the blog in its entirety:
“The comma one will not turn your car into an autonomous vehicle. It is an advanced driver assistance system. To put it in traditional auto manufacturer terms, it is “lane keep assist” and “adaptive cruise control”
“Our supported car, the Honda 2016/17 Civic with Sensing already has these features. But as anyone with the car will tell you, they aren’t very good. The comma.ai system is just much better. It provides no new functionality, so it should be legal everywhere the Honda systems are; it is an aftermarket upgrade.
“With all these Tesla autopilot like systems, it is very important that you pay attention. This system does not remove any of the driver’s responsibilities from the task of driving. We provide two safety guarantees:
“1. Enforced disengagements. Step on either pedal or press the cancel button to retake full manual control of the car immediately.
“2. Actuation limits. While the system is engaged, the actuators are constrained to operate within reasonable limits; the same limits used by the stock system on the Honda.
“At comma.ai, we are working as hard as we can to deliver the best possible user experience. Onward to the launch.”
After announcing the cancellation of Comma One, Comma.ai sent out a series of angry tweets from China, interestingly, directed at the NHTSA’s decision. One tweet said “the NHTSA never asked for a test drive.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk once offered Hotz a contract with a “multimillion-dollar bonus” to build a new Autopilot system. Hotz, however, turned down the offer. Ironically, Tesla is probably the reason NHTSA pressured Comma.ai. Afterall, Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system was under major scrutiny after a series of accidents, including the fatal accident that killed 40-year-old Joshua Brown.
Brown’s Tesla, on Autopilot, failed to apply the brakes as a tractor-trailer was making a left turn in front of the car. It turned out that Autopilot was never designed to handle the scenario that led to this fatal crash. Tesla and Mobileye, which initially collaborated on Autopilot, ended their relationship as a result of this fatal crash.
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Consumer Reports urged Tesla to disable Autopilot following the crashes, saying “consumers should never be guinea pigs for vehicle safety ‘beta’ programs.” This is very similar to what NHTSA has said to Comma.ai.
Tesla has since announced that all its cars will be built with all the “hardware needed for full self-driving capability.” However, the self-driving system won’t be turned on until further testing is performed. This is a major move for Tesla as it moves away from the semi-autonomous nature of its Autopilot system to a fully autonomous system.