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 in North America for all users who purchased the option.

But clearly not everyone is happy with the launch.

Customers have filed a class action lawsuit against Tesla, saying they were duped by Musk and Tesla’s claims that full-fledged self-driving was imminent, when instead it repeatedly hit roadblocks roads in recent years.

Meanwhile, a tech entrepreneur, Dan O’Dowd, is leading a campaign to stop Tesla’s self-driving software in its tracks. He calls his deployment “reckless” and the cars “dangerous”.

“It’s really terrible. There are a lot of people making self-driving cars of all kinds. It’s by far the worst. It’s the worst reliability-wise I’ve ever seen,” O said. ‘Dowd at Euronews Next from his office in Santa Barbara, California.

“Of all the tests we’ve done, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen a product that has so many failures. Every eight minutes it makes a driving error,” he said. -he declares.

Of all the tests we’ve done, I’ve never seen anything like it. I have never seen a product with so many flaws. Every eight minutes, he makes a driving error.

His campaign, called the Dawn Project, performed several tests on Tesla cars in Full Self-Driving mode. In her latest video, shot in October, she alleged that the software failed to recognize a stroller placed in her path, causing the car to repeatedly hit her and roll over the small dummy placed inside.

This summer, the software engineer already caused an uproar with a video showing his Tesla – supposedly in Full Self-Driving mode – mowing down child-sized dummies.

Tesla hit back at Project Dawn, sending a cease and desist letter in August saying it had “disparaged Tesla’s business interests and disseminated defamatory material to the public.”

O’Dowd’s critics have questioned his campaign motives, 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.

Full Self-Driving is far from autonomous

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

“Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully aware driver who has their hands on the wheel and is ready to take over at a moment’s notice,” reads the Tesla website.

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

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

What about all the people who disagreed? Pedestrians, other drivers, they never agreed.

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

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

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

O’Dowd ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate this year, campaigning against the “move fast and break things” mantra that he says leads to dangerous technology.

He considers the deployment of Tesla’s software to be premature.

“They’re not doing the kind of testing that’s needed to do something that’s really going to be reliable. They’re making too many changes too quickly without enough thought, without thinking about the issues with the whole system,” he said.

“And they’re going to say, ‘it’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 it’s not going to be hacked.”

Tesla under investigation

In the United States, no approval is needed to launch this kind of software. Musk even joked about it at a conference in Berlin this summer: “In the United States things are legal by default, and in Europe they are illegal by default.”

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

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

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

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

Data released earlier this year by US regulators revealed that Tesla cars using driver assistance systems went into 273 crashes over a period of 10 months.

For O’Dowd, campaigning against Tesla is just the beginning. For this Caltech engineer, who claims to have worked for the military forces, many other software that we use in our daily lives are defective.

The next issue he 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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