Skip to navigationSkip to content
Reuters/Paul Lienert
Driving progress.
FREE CODE

To dodge regulators, a self-driving car startup released all their code for free

Dave Gershgorn
By Dave Gershgorn

Artificial intelligence reporter

From our Obsession

Machines with Brains

AI is upending companies, industries, and humanity.

George Hotz, the well-known hacker and founder of the self-driving car startup Comma.ai, is a man of surprises.

In October, he unexpectedly and voluntarily spiked his company’s first product—a device that gives select cars autonomous features—after getting a letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urging the delay of the product launch. Today, he announced another surprise: He’s releasing his software for free.

Tinkerers and aspiring self-driving car startup CEOs alike can now use Comma.ai’s code, no charge, as well as their once-proprietary research platform for gathering data, Neo.

What’s not available? The wealth of data necessary for the algorithms to actually function. (However, hundreds of gigabytes of self-driving car data is readily accessibly through open-source companies like Udacity.)

Hotz’ motives for releasing the code are less about creating a free and open ecosystem of autonomous carmakers, and more about skirting federal and state regulations.

“NHTSA only regulates physical products that are sold,” Hotz said, according to The Verge. “They do not regulate open source software, which is a whole lot more like speech.”

Hotz did not inform the NHTSA or the California Department of Motor Vehicles that he would be releasing the code, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Higgins.

When asked how he’ll make money, Hotz reportedly said, “How does anybody make money? Our goal is to basically own the network. We want to own the network of self driving cars that is out there.”

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.