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A college student turned his Honda Civic into a self-driving car for $700

Why it matters to you

Self-driving cars aren't going to be affordable to the masses anytime soon but this enterprising college student found a way around that.

College students are permanently broke, constantly having to sacrifice the finer things in life (meals) in favor of the bare essentials (beer). By facing those hardships, few students are likely to be able to afford a self-driving car anytime soon. Can those college smarts be put to better use?

That was the case for Brevan Jorgenson. A senior at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, Jorgenson is the proud owner of a self-driving Honda Civic — and all it cost him was $700 (plus the cost of the car itself).

His newly autonomous set of wheels are due to his decision to become an early beta tester for Comma Neo, the self-driving car kit developed by former teen hacker George Hotz, now CEO and founder of Comma.ai.

More: Self-driving retrofit software now available for free, but it comes with caveats

“For the beta test stage you just downloaded their beta Android app Chffr, and let it record your driving with a suction phone mount,” Jorgenson told Digital Trends. “I did that for a few months, and in that time I was offered a promotion from student worker to full-time employee [at my job]. With my new income, I decided to buy the 2016 Honda Civic Touring in March. In September, I saw an article with a picture of a 2016 Honda Civic in the background of George Hotz’s garage. I got really excited because I knew that might mean that he is working on getting a Comma system working for my car. I could not believe that the exact car model I bought by coincidence was going to work on the Comma system I was a beta tester for months before [I had bought it.]”

Last November, Comma open-sourced everything necessary to get the 2016 Civic Touring and Acura ILX running the technology. This came after it suddenly abandoned earlier plans to sell the Comma Neo hardware and software to customers as a $1,000 unit, following concerns from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Jorgenson immediately ordered the necessary parts to build his own Neo device, based on plans he found online and Comma’s free software. The finished unit he assembled includes a OnePlus 3 smartphone running Comma’s Openpilot code, circuit board, and a 3D-printed case.

Having already put his autonomous car through its paces on the open road, Jorgenson next plans to use his kitted-out car to drive (or, at least, to have it drive him) the 7.5-hour journey from Omaha, Nebraska, to Denver so he can visit his girlfriend in March.

We guess that rocking up in a self-driving car is one way to impress the object of your affections. Back in our day, we just stood outside bedroom windows holding up a boombox!