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Elon Musk Unimpressed by iPhone Hacker's DIY Autonomous Car

18 December 2015 - Autoblog

Archive Photo: Elon Musk

Back in 2007, a teenager named George Hotz became famous for being the first person to hack into the iPhone. This year, he's getting attention again for building his own self-driving car.

A new profile in Bloomberg describes how Hotz took a 2016 Acura ILX and turned it into an autonomous vehicle. As part of the Internet's reaction, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said that the article was "inaccurate" and threw shade on what Hotz was able to do. Somewhat ironically, the Bloomberg article was written by Ashlee Vance, who published a biography of Musk earlier this year.

Let's start with Hotz's DIY AI car. The 26-year-old added a bunch of tech to the car: lidar, an extra camera, and a 21.5-inch screen (Hotz also took a little swipe at Tesla when showing this to Vance, saying that the California automaker "only has a 17-inch screen"). All of this, along with some software, allows the ILX to drive by itself on the highway. Sort of. Hotz programmed his AI to watch him drive and learn how to do it, rather than programming it for every possible circumstance. He says that this is the best way to design a self-driving car.

Hotz seems awfully keen on attacking Tesla (seriously, go read the article). Vance says that Hotz will "release a YouTube video a few months from now in which his Acura beats a Tesla Model S on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles" as part of a bet with Musk. Hotz also says that his software can beat the work being done by Mobileye, which supplies parts for Tesla's Autopilot function. When Hotz took Bloomberg reporter Ashlee Vance for a ride in the car, Vance makes it clear he didn't have a lot of confidence in the car as it just about crashes into a truck. But, overall, Vance's article fawns over Hotz's work. Musk, on the other hand, is not exactly impressed.

In an article posted on Tesla's website today, Musk wrote:

We think it is extremely unlikely that a single person or even a small company that lacks extensive engineering validation capability will be able to produce an autonomous driving system that can be deployed to production vehicles. It may work as a limited demo on a known stretch of road -- Tesla had such a system two years ago -- but then requires enormous resources to debug over millions of miles of widely differing roads.

We're not sure if it's legal for Hotz to drive his homemade autonomous car on public roads in California, but we're trying to figure that out. For his part, we doubt Hotz much cares. When he was busy hacking iPhones and Playstations, he famously said, "I live by morals, I don't live by laws."

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