26 year old hacker bets Elon Musk his self-driving car outperforms Tesla

According to Bloomberg Business*, George Hotz, the first person to hack the iPhone, says he has, "a self-driving car that he had built in about a month. The claim seems absurd. But... in his garage there’s a white 2016 Acura ILX outfitted with a laser-based radar (lidar) system on the roof and a camera mounted near the rearview mirror. A tangle of electronics is attached to a wooden board where the glove compartment used to be, a joystick protrudes where you’d usually find a gearshift, and a 21.5-inch screen is attached to the center of the dash. 'Tesla only has a 17-inch screen,' Hotz says."

Who is George Hotz? According to Bloomberg, he was the first to hack the iPhone "while still in high school and became an international celebrity, appearing on TV news shows. Three years later, he hacked the PlayStation 3." After winning hacker competitions and more notoriety, "Hotz became a coding vagabond. He briefly attended Rochester Institute of Technology, did a couple five-month internships at Google, worked at SpaceX for four months, then at Facebook for eight." He's since become interested in artificial intelligence (AI) and intrigued by applying AI to self-driving cars.

On the other side of the equation, Tesla Motors already works with Israeli firm Mobileye on their self-driving "Autopilot" technology. Can the 26-year-old George Hotz (see image below) do better than the autonomous driving industry leader, Mobileye? And what's this bet all about with Elon Musk? "Hotz says he’ll release a YouTube video a few months from now in which his Acura beats a Tesla Model S on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. The point of the exercise is twofold. First, it will—he hopes—prove the technology works and is ready to go on sale. Second, it will help Hotz win a bet with Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla."

"A friend introduced him to Musk, and they met at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif., talking at length about the pros and perils of AI technology. Soon enough, the two men started figuring out a deal in which Hotz would help develop Tesla’s self-driving technology. There was a proposal that if Hotz could do better than Mobileye’s technology in a test, then Musk would reward him with a lucrative contract. Hotz, though, broke off the talks when he felt that Musk kept changing the terms. 'Frankly, I think you should just work at Tesla,' Musk wrote to Hotz in an e-mail. 'I’m happy to work out a multimillion-dollar bonus with a longer time horizon that pays out as soon as we discontinue Mobileye.'"

“I appreciate the offer,” Hotz replied, “but like I’ve said, I’m not looking for a job. I’ll ping you when I crush Mobileye.” Musk simply answered, “OK.”

Can Hotz do something really big in the self-driving space? Will he crush Mobileye... or possibly join Tesla? After the article came out, Bidnessetc reported, "Mobileye NV (NYSE: MBLY) stock is trading in the red, falling more than 6% after Bloomberg reported that its partner Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) is [rumored to be] looking to crack a deal to replace it with developer George Hotz. Mobileye stock dropped from $43.52 to $40.33 in a matter of minutes, after the news was disclosed."

And Tesla Motors responded to the article on its blog: "The [Bloomberg] article by Ashlee Vance did not correctly represent Tesla or Mobileye. We think it is extremely unlikely that a single person or even a small company that lacks extensive engineering validation capability will be able to produce an autonomous driving system that can be deployed to production vehicles... We should also clarify that Tesla’s autopilot system was designed and developed in-house... Going forward, we will continue to use the most advanced component technologies, such as Mobileye’s vision chip, in our vehicles. Their part is the best in the world at what it does and that is why we use it."

Seems George Hotz already made an impact. We'll keep you posted on how this all plays out.


*Source: Bloomberg Businessweek (photos: Peter Bohler; video: David Nicholson)