After an ad has been airing for some time now showing Tesla's vehicles plowing over child-sized mannequins, the US electric car company has issued an official cease-and-desist letter. Tesla rarely gets involved, even when it seems it's being targeted by individuals or companies, and it doesn't have a PR department, so this is arguably a big step.
Billionaire Dan O'Dowd, who runs Green Hills Software company that competes with Tesla, has launched a campaign against the electric carmaker's advanced driver-assist systems. O'Dowd also ran for the US Senate with the primary goal of getting Tesla's Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta software banned.
The Washington Post got ahold of the letter Tesla sent to Dan O'Dowd's The Dawn Project, which is an advocacy group working to "ban unsafe software from safety critical systems." O'Dowd writes:
"The first danger we are tackling is Elon Musk’s reckless deployment of unsafe Full Self-Driving cars on our roads."
The Dawn Project website claims that O'Dowd is "the world’s leading expert in creating software that never fails and can’t be hacked."
O'Dowd has placed major ads in newspapers, he constantly criticises Elon Musk and Tesla on social media, and now he's running an ad that makes it seem as though Tesla's EVs will literally "mow down children."
When Tesla owners, and more specifically, Tesla's FSD beta testers, saw the video, they began plotting a response. Several have made their own videos suggesting that O'Dowd's must be rigged. There have been accusations that The Dawn Project didn't even have the system turned on at times during the test, the driver may have pushed the accelerator pedal, and more.
We have no way of knowing for sure why O'Dowd's tests seem to prove Tesla's cars will run things over when FSD beta testers' tests are proving otherwise. To be fair, any Tesla FSD beta tester's video footage could be manipulated in the same way people are suggesting related to The Dawn Project's footage.
Regardless of all the missing details, what we do know is that Tesla sent the letter, O'Dowd received it, and he's refusing to take down the video ad. Meanwhile, YouTube has taken down at least one of the opposing ads since the FSD beta testers have actually gone so far as to use real children to prove the system's worth.
According to the Washington Post, Tesla deputy general counsel Dinna Eskin wrote in a response letter:
“The purported tests misuse and misrepresent the capabilities of Tesla’s technology, and disregard widely recognized testing performed by independent agencies as well as the experiences shared by our customers."
Meanwhile, Dan O'Dowd said in a recent interview:
“This letter is so pathetic in terms of whining: Mr. Free Speech Absolutist, just a crybaby hiding behind his lawyers.”
There are about 100,000 Tesla FSD beta testers using the software on public roads. To date, we're not aware of any major accidents, and certainly not any injuries or deaths. This doesn't mean there haven't been incidents. Not every incident is reported, and people could easily hide details to try to protect Tesla and its software. However, it's safe to say that the software has not run over any kids, much less hurt or killed anyone.
This is almost certainly due at least in part to the fact that the drivers must remain aware and ready to take control at a moment's notice. That said, many cars on the road today have adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping systems, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking, but tests show they don't always completely avoid a collision, thus the driver is ultimately responsible for the car in all cases. The systems are meant to "assist."
This is a developing story. As the aftermath of the letter unfolds, we'll keep you posted.