So, the carmaker has filed a lawsuit against one such videomaker in particular…
There is a serious argument over whether Autopilot, Tesla’s lane-centering and adaptive cruise control driver assistance system, is as safe and competent as it promises. But, as with many things Tesla, things may quickly get murky, and not only because the pioneering automobile company disbanded its public relations team years ago. Consider The Dawn Project, which was formed by Dan O’Dowd, who also owns Green Hills Software, which competes with Tesla’s software. O’Dowd has launched a congressional campaign promising to rid the world of the “scourge” that is Autopilot, and has just published a video depicting a Tesla using Autopilot driving over a kid mannequin to “prove” the system’s flaws.
Of course, this ploy went viral, not least because it spurred Tesla’s cult-like owners to use their own children—or, we’re not kidding, try to borrow other children—to debunk The Dawn Project’s claims. Tesla has now declared the original video defamatory and demanded that it be deleted because it “misrepresents” the safety and capabilities of Autopilot and FSD (the step-above, still-not-yet-in-production Full Self Driving feature Tesla is real-world testing using its customers). As frequent readers of Tesla’s ups and downs are no doubt aware, there is accumulating evidence that the Autopilot software isn’t as flawless as Tesla and CEO Elon Musk say.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is presently looking into the function following many reports of Teslas colliding with stopped cars or items on the roadside, including emergency vehicles.
New video of Master Scammer Musk’s Full Self-Driving @Tesla ruthlessly mowing down a child mannequin wearing a safety vest in a real school crosswalk. No cones. Room to swerve. Video of pedals.
Everything is real except the child, bc you know what would happen to a real child! pic.twitter.com/a3ut9bpSqG
— Dan O’Dowd (@RealDanODowd) August 15, 2022
The Involved Video
One video shows a Tesla Model 3 running over a child-sized dummy at a crosswalk with FSD Beta 10.12.2; the Tesla never stops down, even after hitting it. Another film has a higher production value and was shot at Willow Springs International Raceway with a similar child-like mannequin, who gets mowed down by a Tesla in the same fashion as in the previous video.
Initially, enthusiastic Tesla enthusiasts with tiny children marched their children in front of moving automobiles to “show” that FSD and Autopilot worked as planned. Fortunately, no children were sacrificed on the altar of Tesla’s public relations, but YouTube did intervene and delete several of those films, leaving just The Dawn Project’s originals.
According to a letter obtained by the Washington Post, Tesla is now asking that The Dawn Project and Dan O’Dowd delete those videos because they are defamatory and have disparaged “Tesla’s business interests” in Tesla’s Full Self Driving technology. In the letter, Dinna Eskin, Tesla’s senior director and deputy general counsel, also demands that O’Dowd and The Dawn Project “immediately cease and desist further dissemination of all defamatory information, issue a formal public retraction within 24 hours, and provide Tesla with the below demanded documentation.”
Many of the complaints or concerns raised by O’Dowd and his project appear to be legitimate or possible to raise in good faith, but it appears best to leave such investigations to the unbiased experts at NHTSA, which has, once again, begun investigating other safety issues surrounding Tesla’s Autopilot. While not every poor messenger need a spotless record, it’s difficult to ignore the obvious conflicts of interest between O’Dowd and software connected to driver assistance features and, well, Tesla.
Dan O’Dowd: Who Is He?
Dan O’Dowd is a software engineer who earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1976. He subsequently moved on to work on embedded development tools for early microprocessors utilised in Mattel’s late 1970s portable electronic games. O’Dowd also collaborated with National Semiconductor (now owned by Texas Instruments) on the NS32000 32-bit microprocessor, which was utilised in 1980s personal computers such as the IBM RT PC, the BBC Micro, and others. Green Hills Software is his firm.
was founded in 1982, and its claim to fame is that it was the “first and only” software company to develop an operating system (OS) that met the NSA’s certification for EAL 6+ High Robustness, which means that no matter how well funded and “hostile” your hacker is, it is extremely difficult to attack this OS.
Our new safety test of @ElonMusk’s Full Self-Driving Teslas discovered that they will indiscriminately mow down children.
— Dan O’Dowd (@RealDanODowd) August 9, 2022
Green Hills also claims to have created the operating systems for the Boeing 787, the Lockheed Martin F-35 multirole fighters, the Boeing B1-B bomber, and the Lockheed Martin-operated Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (which, curiously, features a glass cockpit similar to the 787’s). Green Hills is also the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) software supplier for the 2022 BMW iX EV crossover, raising another, if minor, conflict of interest here.
— The Dawn Project (@RealDawnProject) June 9, 2022
O’Dowd also ran briefly as a Democratic primary candidate for California’s Senator Seat (which was subsequently won by Alex Padilla), with his campaign theme centred on cybersecurity and the safety of Tesla’s FSD and Autopilot. The Dawn Project was established around this time, but it was a full-page New York Times ad in January 2022 that caught the public’s attention. The Dawn Project’s sponsored commercial began, “Don’t Be A Tesla Crash Test Dummy,” and then went on to explain why Autopilot and FSD were “unsafe at any speed.” It and O’Dowd then launched a series of video advertisements showing the failings of Autopilot and FSD using kid mannequins, as shown above.
Again, although Tesla may have a case against O’Dowd and O’Dowd may be raising reasonable safety issues, the scenario is, to put it mildly, a muddle. A lot more research is needed to answer the obvious question here, which is whether or not a Tesla will squash children indiscriminately if it meets them on the road when its Autopilot or FSD functions are activated. More scientific attempts will be required than probably skewed social media footage showing mannequins (or real children) being targeted at by moving Teslas. So, while it may appear like Tesla is facing an issue, there isn’t much to go on so yet.
That might change if anything comes out of the NHTSA’s independent investigation and any corrective steps it suggests. But, for the time being, may we remember the unfortunate mannequins? Oh, and while Tesla does not have a public relations staff to contact, we infer (based on its stop and desist letter to O’Dowd) that the carmaker would rather you not attempt to mimic The Dawn Endeavor’s, uh, project.