It seemed like a great idea at first: autonomous cars are big business, so why wouldn’t startups jump at the chance to get on the bandwagon? One organization had a unique angle on self-driving vehicles the seemed a sure-fire hit. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn’t agree.
Comma.ai has cancelled its first product after increasing pressure and rising safety concerns. The Comma One is a retrofit device that allows users to make any vehicle autonomous. Instead of having to purchase a whole new car, consumers would be able to attach the device to their vehicle and take advantage of all the benefits autonomous driving has to offer. What could go wrong?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, quite a bit. Officials questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Comma One, particularly with how it integrates with the technology already installed in cars. The device takes over radar and cruise control systems that vehicles come equipped with; it only comes with camera sensors for drivers to rely on. Should the cameras malfunction or become compromised, the results could prove disastrous.
Then there are the somewhat problematic claims made by the company itself. Although marketed as an autonomous vehicle add-on, Comma.ai repeatedly stressed that the device did not exclude the need for a driver. NHTSA officials worried that this contradiction could put potential users in serious danger, and create a hazardous environment on roadways.
With all this mounting pressure, Comma.ai had two options: meet the safety demands of officials, or call it quits. The company opted for the second, and has announced its intention to explore other avenues and markets. Founder George Hotz has claimed that the decision was a practical one.
Would much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers. It isn’t worth it
This decision hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles (or their add-on counterparts) within the public. Numerous other companies already have devices in production that will serve as driver assistance systems and self-driving packages. They should be available within the next few years.