George Hotz is known for not holding back.
Hotz got famous as a teen hacker with a talent for breaking into devices like the original iPhone and PlayStation 3. Now he’s got a self-driving car startup, Comma.ai, which is based on technology he literally built in his garage.
More recently, he had a throwdown with Elon Musk over Tesla. He said Musk offered him a multimillion-dollar bonus if he could replace the Mobileye Tesla uses. Musk disputed that claim and pooh-poohed the ability of a “single person or even a small company” to come up with real self-driving technology.
True to his controversial fashion, in his seven minutes onstage at Tech Crunch Disrupt, Hotz delivered a manic roast of the self-driving car space by calling out the “players” versus the “jokers.”
“You have Google who is probably never going to ship. You have Otto who was hungry and then they got millions and millions from Uber,” he said, referencing the self-driving truck startup that Uber bought this summer for $680 million.
“And then there’s Tesla, that despite my public disagreement with Elon Musk, I have so much respect for that company because they actually shipped a self-driving car. The most advanced self-driving car you can buy today is the Tesla Model S with auto-pilot,” he continued.
Then it switched to the (even) more negative, as Hotz declared there’s not enough trash-talking in Silicon Valley:
“Now we’re going to call out the jokers.
“There’s this company called Mobileye and their job is to work with regulators to lower the safety ratings of cars that do not have a Mobileye chip in them. They recently discontinued their agreement to work with Tesla — Yes, autopilot was not developed in house, they used this third party chip called Mobileye — because Tesla was too innovative and it scared them. After the accident, Mobileye got scared and they want no part of innovation.
“Then you think Silicon Valley might have a solution to this. This is a company Drive.AI, good machine learning pedigree, from Stanford. It recently came out that what they are doing is building emotional intelligence for cars by building signs that go on top of your car — not a self-driving car at all.
“Then you have Zoox which promises you this and delivers, well, the Zoox jalopy, which is this. So the jokers.”
But one target was really in Hotz’s crosshairs: Cruise Automation.
The startup sold in the spring to General Motors for a rumoured $1 billion payout, including earnouts. Since its sale, it’s shifted the M&A microscope to many of these early startups, and the gold rush has begun. Yet, Hotz doesn’t see Cruise’s sale as a good thing for the industry.
“They promised to build a self-driving car kit,” Hotz exclaimed with his arms waving. “Granted it was going to be $10,000 and only work on the Audi A4. They never shipped. They got bought by GM. And in the music industry, they have a word for people like them: sellouts. I don’t care if it’s a billion dollars. They’re sellouts.”
The long lead-up of punching at his competition lead to what Hotz really wanted to do: unveil that he was shipping his product on cars soon. Like the Cruise product that he slammed, his version doesn’t work on every car — it only works on certain Hondas and Acuras. But he’s already slapped a trademark symbol next to the word “shippability’ and promises that his self-driving car kit will be hitting the market soon.
“If [Tesla] is the iOS, we want to be the Android. And I want to be there when Ford’s CEO has to choose to be Nokia or Samsung,” Hotz said.
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