The commercial sparked a flurry of news articles and criticism of Tesla’s software, a preliminary version of which is being tested by more than 100,000 users on public streets in the United States. countries like the United States and Canada. It also drew criticism from Tesla supporters, who said the test could have been rigged. Some sought to recreate the demonstrations, sometimes with real children, in an effort to prove that Tesla’s software really works.
The back-and-forth is the latest escalation in an ongoing feud between Tesla’s community of vocal fans and critics of its driver assistance software.
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The man behind Project Dawn, billionaire tech founder Dan O’Dowd, has emerged as an unlikely and controversial leader of the latter group. He runs Green Hills Software, which makes operating systems for airplanes and cars, potentially making it a competitor in the car software market. He also ran for the US Senate this year and aired videos of him on television and online as campaign ads. (One of those ads features reports from The Washington Post, which did not participate.)
O’Dowd says his motivation for going after Tesla is a conviction that the technology, like many other pieces of software people rely on in the modern world, isn’t secure enough and needs to be redesigned, and in this case needs to be banned.
“We’ve been busy connecting and putting computers in charge of the things millions of people’s lives depend on: self-driving cars are one of them,” O’Dowd said.
The “full self-driving” beta is still in development and is typically used by approved drivers who have qualified after a safety assessment or have otherwise been granted access. A $12,000 software upgrade makes vehicles eligible for it, though the price is ready to go up. Tesla doesn’t claim the software is autonomous, and the system requires the driver to be alert at all times, issuing escalating warnings if a driver isn’t paying attention before turning off features.
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Tesla has pointed to the ability of technologies like its Autopilot driver assistance system to “reduce the frequency and severity of traffic accidents and save thousands of lives each year.” Musk has said Autopilot is “unequivocally safer” than normal driving.
Musk and Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Regulatory and law enforcement agencies have urged users not to involve children in the tests or attempt to simulate safety demonstrations, which are carried out under a strict and tightly controlled set of conditions.
That didn’t stop a Tesla superfan from testing a child in an attempt to prove the “full autonomous driving” beta is safe, after the parent agreed to sit behind the wheel for the demo. The vehicle in the video slowly approached both a child-sized mannequin and a real child, both times slowing down and stopping. YouTube removed the video after CNBC flagged it on the site, the outlet reported.
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Tesla’s cease-and-desist letter was supported by an investigation by news site Electrek, which alleged that Tesla’s “full autonomous driving” beta “never activated” during Project Dawn’s test with dummies. Aspects of the report have since been called into question, after Project Dawn pointed to raw data and other information indicating that full autonomous driving was activated during the demonstrations.
“The alleged tests abuse and misrepresent the capabilities of Tesla’s technology, and ignore widely recognized tests conducted by independent agencies, as well as experiences shared by our customers,” Tesla Deputy General Counsel Dinna Eskin wrote in the letter. dated August 11, the day after the Electrek article.
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The letter demands that the campaign immediately remove the videos and accuses the group of “unsafe and inappropriate use” of FSD Beta. “Their actions really put consumers at risk,” Tesla alleged.
Cease and desist orders sometimes precede a lawsuit, but can also be used to convince an opponent to back down under the threat of legal action.
O’Dowd dismissed the order.
“This letter is so pathetic in terms of whining: Mr. Free Speech Absolutist, just a whiner hiding behind his lawyers,” O’Dowd said in an interview. (Musk has said that he supports free speech and welcomes criticism.)
O’Dowd said he did not intend to remove the commercial video, instead promising more money in the effort.
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