Comma.ai is taking its ball and going home.
Months before it could even celebrate its one-year anniversary, the company is halting development of its most newsworthy product, Comma One, an aftermarket system that promised to turn regular cars into semi-autonomous vehicles.
The decision came after the startup company received a letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration questioning the device's safety, asking for more information about the product and saying it would institute $21,000-a-day fines if Comma.ai failed to comply.
"Would much rather spend my life building amazing tech than dealing with regulators and lawyers," Comma.ai founder George Hotz wrote on Twitter Friday. "It isn't worth it."
The autonomous driving startup was launched in early 2016 by Hotz, a programmer who, at the age of 17, was the first to hack Apple's iPhone. After receiving the letter from NHTSA, Hotz tweeted from Comma.ai's account that he was putting a halt to the Comma One.
In a statement to Automotive News, NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas said the agency had "concerns about reports regarding the safety of the Comma.ai product."
"Mr. Hotz's decision to cancel the product is his own," Thomas said.
Hotz introduced the Comma One at TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference in September. The $999 aftermarket product, not yet on the market, promised to provide semi-autonomous capabilities similar to Tesla's Autopilot software to certain Honda vehicles.
In a blog post published on Oct. 20, Hotz cautioned that the Comma One would not provide full autonomy to vehicles and that drivers should still pay attention while the driving assist technology was activated.
In the letter to Comma.ai, NHTSA's chief counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh requested that Hotz complete a "special order" that included questions on the mechanics, capabilities, testing, safety and release date of the Comma One.
"We are concerned that your product would put the safety of your customers and other road users at risk," Hemmersbaugh wrote. "We strongly encourage you to delay selling or deploying your product on the public roadways unless and until you can ensure it's safe."
NHTSA gave Comma.ai until Nov. 10 to submit the information and said the company could be fined up to $21,000 a day for missing the deadline.
Michael Harley, director of automotive insights at Kelley Blue Book, said it was "no surprise" that Hotz shut down Comma One in response to NHTSA's request. To gain agency approval for an aftermarket device that takes over control of a vehicle, companies face "an insurmountable amount of regulatory compliance."