Is Comma.ai Illegally Testing Autonomous Cars in California?

Comma.ai published a video showing an Acura equipped with that very hard and software doing a test drive. The startup, which develops and provides Open Source code and hardware for autonomous vehicles, was founded by the brilliant enfant terrible George Hotz. The video shows the car following lane markings and reacting to other cars.

What’s interesting is the area the car drives. At the beginning of the video we can see an exit sign with the street name Sharp Park Road, which is South of San Francisco. Apparently the car drives along the Skyline Boulevard.

According to an updated list provided by the California DMV, Comma.ai has not been issued a license to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in California. Hotz had already gotten into troubles with the NHTSA last year, when he put videos on YouTube demoing test drives of retrofitted autonomous cars driving on public roads. Because of the NHTSA request to share more details on his test drives, he decided to refrain from selling hardware and instead put the software code and the blueprints for the devices out as Open Source material. In a recent talk in Mountain View he explained his decision and said that atoms can be regulated, but not bits.

Considering the most recent kerfuffles around Uber that illegally tested self-driving cars in San Francisco in December and which was forced to stop the tests, as well as the revelations around Ot.to trucks (now Uber) testing self-driving trucks illegally on public roads in Nevada, the authorities became more sensitive with rule violations by autonomous car technology companies.

To get that straight: startups are know for breaking rules, and pretty often they have to. Uber for instance doesn’t ‘break’ some of the taxi rules, but rather ‘questions’ their validity considering the availability of new technologies and business models. But it’s a different thing to have a two ton robot controlled by a computer barreling down the streets, as can be seen in videos of autonomous Ubers ignoring red lights.

The question from the Comma.ai-video is now under which conditions the company is testing its vehicles? With or without a test license?

This article was also published in German.

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