April 09, 2018
Jason D. Rowley is a venture capital and technology reporter based in Chicago.
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In the world of autonomous vehicles, the amount of money companies raise in venture rounds is much like the dreams of said companies’ founders: outsized. This isn’t exactly bombshell news. The retail cost of sensor arrays and other automation systems can run into the five figures, and that doesn’t count the car itself.

So a few million dollars may be small potatoes, right? Well, that depends on the tech and the team.

According to an SEC filing posted today, Comma.ai has raised another $5 million in external funding. Comma develops hardware and software for self-driving enthusiasts to access their cars’ internal sensors and communication hubs. The startup also offers all-in-one dashboard camera that brings together navigation and music streaming with its own open source dashcam software.

It’s unclear who invested in this round. Andreessen Horowitz led Comma’s $3.1 million seed round in April 2016, which valued the company at $20 million pre-money according to Crunchbase data.

People formerly associated with the company include its former head of machine learning, Yunus Saatci, a specialist in probabilistic machine learning with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Saatci is now a researcher at Uber AI Labs. Elizabeth Stark was a former advisor who now serves as co-founder and CEO of Lightning Labs, a blockchain infrastructure company. Jacob Smith, the company’s former head of operations, is now the general manager of Bitcoin.com.

What’s In Comma’s Rearview Mirror

The company was founded by George Hotz, a well-known hardware hacker who sometimes goes by “geohot” online. His exploits are numerous. In 2007, at 17 years old, he spent 500 hours tinkering and soldering his way to being the first to unlock Apple’s newly-released iPhone from the AT&T network, which held an exclusive network agreement at the time. He traded his unlocked 8GB iPhone for a $28,000 Nissan 350Z, plus three locked iPhones, a few weeks later.

In 2011, Geohot found himself in legal hot water in as the subject of a lawsuit by Sony after he breached the PlayStation 3’s security in 2010.

Geohot founded Comma in 2015 in the hopes of converting conventional autos into autonomous vehicles by installing an onboard sensor array, called the Comma One, that integrates the car’s speed-control and steering systems. According to a 2015 profile of Geohot in Bloomberg, he turned down a multimillion-dollar bonus offer from Elon Musk to join Tesla’s automation team.

In 2016, Comma was issued a cease and desist order by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, which led the company to cancel the Comma One and “[explore] other products and markets.”

In July 2017, Comma released a device called Panda, an $88 dongle which plugs into a car to let drivers track “RPMs, MPG, cornering G-force, battery life, and so much more.” In conjunction with the analytics software, Panda is billed “like Fitbit for your car,” according to its product page. The company’s aforementioned dashcam, the EON, was released with a development kit in October 2017.