How a College Kid Made His Honda Civic Self-Driving for $700 – MIT Technology Review

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Brevan Jorgenson’s grandma kept her cool when he took her for a nighttime spin in the Honda Civic he’s modified to drive itself on the highway. A homemade device in place of the rear-view mirror can control the brakes, accelerator, and steering, and it uses a camera to identify road markings and other cars.

“She wasn’t really flabbergasted—I think because she’s seen so much from technology by now,” says Jorgenson, a senior at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Others are more wary of the system, which he built using plans and software downloaded from the Internet, plus about $700 in parts. Jorgenson says the fact that he closely supervises his homebrew autopilot hasn’t convinced his girlfriend to trust the gadget’s driving. “She’s worried it’s going to crash the car,” he says.

Many tech and auto companies have begun testing modified cars on the road in recent years. Jorgenson’s vehicle is in the vanguard of a more ragged, grassroots test fleet taking shape as tinkerers around the world strive to upgrade their own vehicles with computing gear that can share driving duties.

Motivation comes from the fun and challenge of getting the technology working—and the prospect of making driving easier. Kiki Jewell, who set out to make her Chevy Bolt self-driving as a learning exercise, says her spouse has been strongly supportive, partly out of self-interest. “My husband’s happy I’m interested to ease his commute,” says Jewell, who lives in the Bay Area.

Jewell and Jorgenson’s projects were enabled by a fit of pique last October by the founder of Comma.ai, a San Francisco startup that was developing a $999 device that could upgrade certain vehicles to steer themselves on the highway and follow stop-and-go traffic. Founder George Hotz abruptly cancelled plans to launch the product after receiving a letter asking questions about its functionality from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In November, he released the company’s hardware designs and software for free, saying he wanted to empower researchers and hobbyists. (Hotz didn’t respond to requests to talk about his strategy.)

College senior Brevan Jorgenson’s car can steer itself on the highway thanks to this device he built and installed using $700 in parts.

Jorgenson set about ordering the parts needed to build up Comma’s device, the Neo, the same day Hotz dumped the plans online. He had been following Comma’s fortunes, and he happened to own a 2016 Honda Civic, one of the two models supported by the company’s software (the other is the 2016 Acura ILX).

A Neo is built from a OnePlus 3 smartphone equipped with Comma’s now-free Openpilot software, a circuit board that connects the device to the car’s electronics, and a 3-D-printed case. Jorgenson got the case printed by an online service and soldered the board together himself.


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