Meet the activist trying to stop Elon Musk from putting ‘unsafe’ self-driving Teslas on our roads

On November 24, Elon Musk announced on Twitter that the beta version of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) software was available across North America to all users who purchased the option.

But clearly, not everyone is happy with the launch.

Customers have filed a class-action lawsuit against Tesla, claiming they were misled by Musk and Tesla’s claims that full-fledged autonomous driving was imminent, when instead it has repeatedly run into roadblocks in recent years.

Meanwhile, a tech entrepreneur, Dan O’Dowd, is campaigning to stop Tesla’s self-driving software. He calls its deployment “reckless” and the cars “unsafe.”

“It’s really terrible. There are a lot of people making self-driving cars of various types. This is by far the worst. It’s the worst in terms of reliability I’ve ever seen,” O’Dowd told Euronews Next from its office in Santa Barbara, California.

“From all the tests we’ve done, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen a product with so many failures. Every eight minutes it makes a driving error,” he said.

From all the tests we’ve done, I’ve never seen anything like it. I have never seen a product that has so many failures. Every eight minutes he makes a driving mistake.

His campaign, called the Dawn Project, conducted several tests of Tesla cars using fully autonomous driving. In his latest video, shot in October, he said the software failed to recognize a pram in his path, causing the car to repeatedly hit him and run over the small dummy inside.

This summer, the software engineer has already caused a stir with a video that showed his Tesla – presumably in Full Self-Driving mode – mowing down child-sized dummies.

Tesla reacted to Project Dawn, sending a cease-and-desist letter in August saying it “disparaged Tesla’s business interests and disseminated defamatory information to the public.”

O’Dowd’s critics questioned the motives behind his campaign, saying automakers use his software in various systems, including automated driving technology. He says he is not a competitor of Tesla and there is no conflict of interest.

Fully autonomous driving is anything but autonomous

Tesla did not respond to Euronews Next’s request for comment on Project Dawn’s latest video, but the automaker’s website provides clear instructions.

“Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, and full self-driving capability are intended for use with a fully alert driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is ready to take over at any moment,” the Tesla website reads. .

He also points out that the feature does not make the vehicle autonomous.

Musk himself acknowledged that full self-driving software won’t get regulatory approval in 2022, as Teslas aren’t yet ready to be driven without someone behind the wheel.

What about all the people who didn’t agree? Pedestrians, other drivers, never agreed.

But that’s not enough to reassure O’Dowd.

“It could be argued that the people who use it have been warned. But what about all the people who disagreed? Pedestrians, other motorists, have never agreed,” he told Euronews Next.

The controversial software was first road tested in October 2020. As of last month, the $15,000 software, still in beta, has been available for purchase to all users in the United States and Canada.

O’Dowd unsuccessfully ran for US Senate this year campaigning against the “move fast and break things” mantra that he says is leading to dangerous technology.

He considers Tesla’s software launch premature.

“They don’t do the kind of testing needed to make something that’s really going to be reliable. They make too many changes too quickly without giving it enough thought, without thinking about the problems with the whole system,” he said.

“And they’ll say, ‘that’s going to slow you down.’ And you’re right, it’s going to slow you down, but it allows you to build something that’s going to work and not be hacked.”

Tesla under investigation

No approval is required in the United States to launch this type of software. Musk even joked to us at a conference in Berlin this summer: “In the US, things are legal by default, and in Europe, they’re illegal by default.”

However, even in the United States, Tesla’s future is bleak.

In July, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) filed a complaint against Tesla, claiming that the labels used – Autopilot and Full Self-Driving – “are a deceptive practice” suggesting that its cars are capable of self-driving , when in fact they can’t.

In the filing, the DMV states that the disputed facts are “cause for suspension or revocation of [Tesla’s] merchant’s license”. The case has not yet been decided.

Reuters reported in October that federal prosecutors were also examining whether Tesla misled consumers, investors and regulators by making unsupported claims about the capabilities of its driver assistance technology.

Data released earlier this year by US regulators revealed that Tesla cars that use driver assistance systems have entered 273 crashes over a 10-month period.

For O’Dowd, the campaign against Tesla is just the beginning. For this Caltech engineer, who claims to have worked for the military, much of the other software we use in our daily lives is buggy.

The next issue it wants to tackle is the security of power grid infrastructure and hospitals, which have seen an increase in ransomware attacks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

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