Dan O’Dowd is one of the most loyal Tesla customers. When undergoing his midlife crisis, he bought two near-identical Tesla Roadsters, the first model the electric carmaker ever produced. Well, those were not the last Teslas he ever purchased; this year, he procured a Model 3 equipped with Full Self-Driving Beta, which allows the car to drive on its own on highways and busy city streets.
The entrepreneur who has made his fortune by selling military software to customers has been using his latest Tesla to test and film the self-driving software. The results are not very Tesla-friendly. The tests show the car swerving across the centerline toward oncoming traffic, failing to slow down in a school zone and missing stop signs.
Only recently, he posted a video in which a Tesla in full self-driving mode could be seen mowing down child-size mannequins.
“If Tesla gets away with this and ships this product and I can’t convince the public that a self-driving car that drives like a drunken, suicidal 13-year-old shouldn’t be on the road, I’m going to fail,” O’Dowd said in an interview from his Santa Barbara office.
Aside from O’Dowd’s big stage, Tesla continues to develop its game-changing technology. During a Tesla event in September, Musk stated that since Full Self-Driving is already saving lives, keeping technology off of public roads would be “morally wrong.”
“At the point of which you believe that adding autonomy reduces injury and death, I think you have a moral obligation to deploy it even though you’re going to get sued and blamed by a lot of people,” Musk said.
Many followers of Elon Musk have criticized O’Dowd for his movements. Tesla sent a cease-and-desist letter in response to O’Dowd’s infant mannequin experiment. O’Dowd also claimed that his last Twitter ad was recently rejected.
However, Tesla fans are not the only ones who criticize. Safety experts have disputed whether objective rogue testing is the most effective strategy for more legislative measures.
“They’re doing it on public roads. It still raises the same ethical issues that you’re putting other people at nonconsensual risk,” said Phil Koopman, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied autonomous car safety for years.
“I’m not a fan, no matter who it is.”
“Consumers should never attempt to create their own test scenarios,” said National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokeswoman Lucia Sanchez.
With Tesla’s full self-driving feature in mind, O’Dowd suggests that software be built thoroughly before being released. It is opposite to most leading technology corporations’ “move fast and break things” attitude. Tesla, he argues, has taken that attitude and applied it to public highways.
For ages, Tesla automobiles have come equipped with the Autopilot technology as a standard kit. However, the Full Self-Driving Beta function offered by the company is considerably superior to anything else.
O’Dowd is no stranger to brawls publicly. He authored multiple blog postings two decades ago warning that the Linux operating system, which was beginning to threaten his firm, was unsafe because foreign spies might introduce malicious code into it. But his cautions usually went unheeded.
This time, he decided to have the Dawn Project, a larger initiative, that revolves around Tesla’s software. Based on an analysis of dozens of hours of YouTube video, he began his campaign in January with an ad in the New York Times claiming that the software makes a mistake every eight minutes.
Then there came his run for the Senate campaign. He invested millions in television ads that included Tesla customers compelled to step in when their Full Self-Driving Beta vehicles made mistakes. Another set of adverts contrasts Musk’s predictions for the day when his cars will be able to drive themselves with the fact that they will still need close driver supervision.
Following that, O’Dowd began producing his own videos. In addition to his advertisements and web postings, he submits the footage to the NHTSA, pleading with the agency to act.
O’Dowd published a video in August showing his Tesla repeatedly smashing the mannequins. When the footage was released, many believed he manipulated the exam. On the other hand, O’Dowd maintains the test was legitimate and has begun administering more videos from various angles to prove his point.
To ease any residual doubts about his techniques, O’Dowd stated that he planned to repeat the tests, this time in front of the press, authorities, Tesla enthusiasts, and even Musk himself.