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Retrofit self-driving tech startup bails rather than dealing with feds

A disruptive $1,000 self-driving car retrofit device isn’t happening. Inventor George Hotz’s concept for a self-driving car system called Comma One got the attention and support of top tech investor Andreesen Horowitz, but when the feds wanted proof of its safety Hotz decided he didn’t want the hassle and canceled the project, according to CNNMoney.

“Would much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers. It isn’t worth it,” Hotz tweeted Friday morning.

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Hotz presented the Comma One at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September. “This is all you need to drive a car,” said Hotz. Impatient with companies such as Google for not already equipping vehicles with self-driving tech, Hotz promised his device would ship by year’s end.

The Comma One design is a green box that replaces a car’s rear view mirror. Hardware in the box would look ahead and around the car and the device’s algorithms would take car of steering, acceleration, and braking. Hotz said cars with the Comma One installed could drive from Mountain View, California, to San Francisco with no assistance from a human.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contacted Hotz’ company Comma.ai with safety concerns and wanted proof the Comma One was safe. The agency didn’t shut Comma.ai down, but when told he could be fined $21,000 a day if Comma.ai didn’t comply, Hotz canceled the project.

Hotz, who previously gained attention for hacking one of the first iPhones and building a self-driving car in his garage, appeared to have a product that could ride the huge incoming wave of interest in autonomous vehicles. The NHTSA has been vocal in its support for the life-saving potential of self-driving technology and last month released a comprehensive first version of guidelines for autonomous vehicle development.

But now Comma.ai is looking at other products. When Hotz tweeted the demise of Comma One, he indicated he was sending the message from China.