Comma.ai launches an $88 universal car interface called Panda
George Hotz, aka geohot, is fidgeting in his living room, wearing dark shades and a giant comma on his t-shirt as he shows me his company’s latest product, an $88 universal car interface called Panda.
Hotz both lives and works in a residential San Francisco neighborhood with a team of 20-somethings who are helping him build Comma.ai, the self-driving car startup Hotz founded to take on Tesla. Panda is the first bit of hardware Hotz will sell since he canceled his self-driving car kit, the Comma One last year.
The decision to cancel was made after Hotz received a warning letter from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandating regulatory compliance. Instead of fighting regulators, Hotz said he decided to open-source the plans, enabling anyone who wanted to build it for free.
Panda is a tiny black and white dongle you port into your car to gather the data and should not come under the same type of regulatory scrutiny as the Comma One. Dongles like Panda are used by most mechanics, and other platforms like Automatic and Mojio operate using these types of car interfaces.
According to Hotz, Panda can give you a wide range of data just by plugging into your car’s OBDII port (something every car made after 1996 should have). The dongle comes equipped with both USB and Wi-Fi capabilities and also can charge your phone while on the go.
Along with Panda, Hotz demoed an app called Chffr (pronounced “shiffer”) that will record your driving data, and software to interpret that data called Cabana.
Chffr is basically a cloud-connected dashcam and could be useful for those who want recorded video of an accident or just to see how they are driving. Pair the app with a Panda and you can start to record from all the sensors in your car. Assuming your car has all the necessary sensors, that means you’ll be able to see when you accelerate, how much gas was in the tank at the time and how hard you hit the brake.