26-year-old hacker gets $3.1 million for his autonomous car company

Comma AI

A 26-year-old hacker just grabbed $3.1 million in funding from VC firm Andreesen Horowitz.

Comma.ai, an autonomous driving startup that’s roughly six months old, is hoping to take on the likes of Tesla, Apple, and Google.

In October, Hotz purchased a 2016 Acura ILX, cameras and GoPro mounts and started developing his company’s technology out of his San Francisco garage.

The company’s goal is to create a kit that can be sold for less than $1,000 by the end of 2016. The kit would include both computer vision software and the cameras.

“It’ll be relatively easy to install,” said Hotz, “on par with setting up a piece of IKEA furniture.”

Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, wrote that when he first met Hotz he was skeptical. But that quickly turned to enthusiasm after he tested the car and learned more about the artificial intelligence behind Comma.ai.

Hotz isn’t exactly a stranger in silicon valley. When he was 17 he discovered how to hack the iPhone so it could be used on carriers other than AT&T.

He dropped out of the Rochester Institute of Technology after one semester. He then interned at Google, worked at Facebook, and was eventually sued by Sony over a Playstation 3 hack.

Hotz tells CNN that he has been fascinated by A.I. for years but wasn’t quite sure how he wanted to approach it.

“For awhile, I thought it was going to be incredibly difficult to contribute,” he said.

In January 2015, he started working as a researcher at Vicarious, a company that’s building artificial intelligence algorithms.

“I started reading all the papers. I thought, ‘This stuff isn’t that hard. This isn’t ultra sophisticated. This is basic,'” he said.

Moreover, “the mistakes people are making are basic.”

Before going out on his own, Hotz held three months of talks with Elon Musk in the hopes of using his A.I. in place of Tesla’s current tech. Those conversations eventually fizzled and Comma.ai was born.

So far the longest stretch his technology has successfully navigated is a one-hour ride from Mountain View to San Francisco.

His company is only 4 people strong but is receiving hundreds of applications every single day.