SCARBOROUGH, Maine -- It's the mother of all DIY projects.
A 19 year-old college student from Maine has figured out that you don't need Tesla or Google to get in on the self-driving car hype.
"Almost all modern day cars have the ability to self drive," said Chris McCammon of Scarborough. "Essentially, the only thing holding cars back is their software, so when I found that out, I was like, 'I need to get this better software in there!"
How it works.
With software from comma.ai, McCammon created the system for his Honda Civic with a smartphone, homemade circuit board, and hours of assembling. The price tag? Just under $500.
"This is called 'Open Pilot,' which is an open-sourced version of auto-pilot," he said. "It lets you retrofit a Civic to be self-driving."
The software takes advantage of the lane-assist and cruise control features already installed in his car. It can also detect the distance between the car and the car in front of it, matching their speed. It does all the stopping and going for whoever's behind the wheel for as long as six minutes without driver interruption.
"If I don't interact with the car in six minutes, it'll slow down and stop. But as long as you touch the wheel or touch any button on the steering wheel in the six minute time frame, then it'll work," said McCammon. He added that comma.ai is working on an update that'll self-drive without driver interruption for 1,000 miles.
Yeah. That's a trip and a half of self-driving.
Do it yourself. Literally.
Want to see how he did it, step by step? McCammon chronicled his project and made a tutorial on YouTube.
Does insurance cover it?
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of McCammon's case is the fact that his Civic is leased, not owned. He did not hack into the software, however; his component is merely an extension that can be removed and replaced with the rear-view mirror.
"The driver takes full responsibility, and the system takes no responsibility," McCammon said. "Teslas can get insured just fine because they have 'Level 2' systems, which is what this is as well."
So, if the software is turned on and there is a crash, it's automatically the 'self-driver's' fault because, "I didn't stop the system."
For McCammon, it's not a concern.
"It's very safe, and helps you stay more attentive because I'm always making sure it's going to do right."
Is it legal?
According to Maine Public Safety spokesperson Steve McCausland, there is no law permitting nor prohibiting self-driving cars on Maine roads, but Maine State Police are aware of the trend and are looking at what other states are doing. The Maine Department of Transportation echoed the sentiment.
"That's the great thing about this," McCammon said, "It's just going to constantly improve. It's not going to happen right away, but there's going to be some level of autonomy within the next few years in a lot of things."
As for his next project?
"I had an old hoverboard that we're turning into an electric scooter next. That's our next project because, you know, hoverboards are so last year."
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