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Monticello: Before you started Comma.ai, which is your current company, you gave an infamous interview to a Bloomberg reporter, where you took the reporter on a ride in this self-driving car that you had worked on for a month, and you just got to work that morning. So are you crazy, or, how did you know that you weren't going to die when you brought that out onto the road?
Hotz: Well, so it's the same safety model that we have today. The safety works like this, it's two-fold. One, the second you touch either the gas or the breaks, the system just stops doing anything, right? So you always have that, that user override.
But the other one, that you even need more than this, you need to make sure that the car's never going to do anything so quickly that you can't respond, and the way you deal with this is torque limits.
It's never going to go like that. It can't. It can't. There's hard limits preventing that, alright? And actually, I didn't even write them. I'm using the hard limits that were built in to the car.
Monticello: Gotcha. So the car has its sort of, own built in system where the power steering, which is mostly electric now, not hydraulic, will not be able to jerk it in front a truck or something like that.
Comma's first consumer product is an app called Chiffr, which turns your phone into a dashcam and uses its GPS and accelerometer. Now the company is launching Panda, an open source, $88 dongle that plugs into your car, links it to your phone, and puts out fine-grain detail about every aspect of your drive.
Hotz: You can actually use a Panda as the bridge between OpenPilot, which is the software that'll drive your car, and the car itself. Panda is a universal car interface. So when it's used by Chffr, it's read only, but when it's used by OpenPilot, it's connected over USB and it can actually drive your car.
Monticello: Gotcha, Okay. So that's what taps you into the car's system so you can move the steering wheel ...
Monticello: ... Okay. And so, what kind of cars ... can I use this on my '89 Volvo or like, do I need a newer car?
Hotz: For Chffr you'll get something from every car manufactured after 1996. Now, if you want to get the fancy self-driving stuff, well, there's only a few cars that OpenPilot supports right now. We're going to start getting a lot more ... like I said, I want ... In 2018, I want to support the majority of the top 20 cars sold in America.
Monticello: And right now is there a baseline of cars that have, drive by wire, brake by wire, gas by wire, that you can tap into?
Hotz: So we support, it's Hondas and Acuras right now. We just bought a Toyota Prius, we're going to be doing all the Toyotas this year. A user, one of our users has ported it to the Chevy Volt. We have a bounty program. As soon as he cleans up the code a little bit and merges it in, we're going to pay him out $10,000. We have a bounty up for the Ford Fusion for somebody to do that. We have a bounty for the Tesla Model S, BMW i3. We want to support them all.
Monticello: Gotcha. So you're kind of hacking into the car makers' systems, essentially. In order to-
Hotz: I wouldn't think it about it like that. You're certainly not hacking into anybody's systems, because it's your car, right? You're not hacking. You're not changing the firmware, you're not jailbreaking. You're just finding ... every car has a different API to get to the steering wheel, the gas, and the brakes. So you know, it's about finding the API's in the new cars.
Monticello: But the car makers, they don't want you to be able to have access to that, right?
Hotz: They don't care. Care manufacturers sell cars, right? What do they care?