Munir Mandviwalla

Low end disruptions on self-driving cars

self driving car photo

 Are self-driving cars ripe for a low-end disruption before they even hit the road? In much the same way the open-source, highly compatible and customizable Linux operating system presented a low-end disruption by being “good enough”, will open-source software disrupt a market currently driven by proprietary R&D? George “Geohot” Hotz, the hacker known for disabling security software on the iPhone and Playstation 3 has released the source code for a semi-autonomous driving car system similar to Tesla’s Autopilot after he started receiving questions from the US NHTSA (transportation safety regulatory agency). Another project called “Udacity”, led by the creator of the Y-Combinator startup, is creating open-source challenges to act as an impetus for the development of an open source self-driving car.

Could the extra competition introduced by an open source development community accelerate the development of a self-driving car that will have a cascading effect of low-end disruptions to shipping and transit? Will a lower barrier to entry accelerate competition in the low end and make high end competition less viable for an emerging technology?

http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/30/13779336/comma-ai-autopilot-canceled-autonomous-car-software-free

4 Responses to Low end disruptions on self-driving cars

  • Profile photo of Kevin Diem

    I think it’s more likely that companies will abuse the open source projects with soft licenses (like MIT or BSD) to get free software and keep all of the modifications/bug fixes that they’ve done for themselves. Hopefully lots of these projects are licensed via GPL or something similar (I presume they will be) so companies will have to provide their modifications to the community at large thusly improving the open source ecosystem.

    Realistically, I can’t think of a way someone could make an automated car cheaply / as a low end disruption. One way or another, GeoHot couldn’t get the job done with an undisclosed amount of VC and a team of silicon valley engineers. He wasn’t even trying to build an actual car and mass produce it. Elon Musk hasn’t been able to do it at scale with a premium price in addition to the billions he’s raised, they have world class talent…

    It’s also important to note that firstly, the Tesla Model 3 has an MSRP of $35,000, ships fully equipped for autonomous driving and only needs a software update to operate. At that price, it’s sold out for like 2 years or something. While it isn’t low end it’s much cheaper than a Model X and far from what Mercedes and BMW will be offering in the near future. It’s on par with similar electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and not too far off from the Prius especially considering all of the added value (ie, autonomous).

    Tesla has sworn not to protect their patents. ie, they’re free for everyone to use. So what’s stopping you from finding a software update on the internet, firing up binutils and poking around the code yourself? Of course this will take quite a bit of time and knowledge but from what I’ve read Volkswagen has some pretty crafty engineers. https://www.tesla.com/blog/all-our-patent-are-belong-you

    • Profile photo of Michael A. Black

      I agree that it is too early for a low-end disruption like Geohot was attempting to warp the autonomous vehicle market. For starters, the market for autonomous vehicle technology is entirely B2B, with vendors like MobilEye licensing technology to other companies like Tesla, although they recently severed the relationship. I steered away from taking a position on the matter in my post, but in my opinion a low-end disruption is less likely before sales to early adopting consumers.

  • Profile photo of Kevin Diem

    Oh, it’s also importat to note that cars already use free, open source software. If they don’t run UNIX they definitely run QNX so they have a lot of the standard stuff like libcurl, glibc, etc.

    Blog post by maintainer of cURL about how he gets emails from Toyota’s customers for assistance with their cars because his email address is in the curl license.
    https://daniel.haxx.se/blog/2016/11/14/i-have-toyota-corola/

  • Profile photo of Kin San Lee

    Self driving cars are a starting idea and lies in the sustaining disruption. Open source software in the self driving cars will definitely raise competition between companies in the self driving industry because of several relationships with other companies and also the growth rate in this industry. Even though self driving cars are growing in a high speed, shipping and transit is already in the low end disruption because of the more sophisticated driving such as uber. In other words, the increase of self driving cars will not make transit and shipping out of business. This increase will do the opposite, opening to new markets and make transit and shipping be more effective.

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