Founder of The Dawn Project has been interviewed by Benzinga discussing The Dawn Project’s recent safety tests of Tesla Full Self-Driving, which have shown that Tesla’s driver monitoring system is not fit for purpose, as well as his ongoing social media clashes with Elon Musk and his army of supporters and their attempts to silence any criticism of Tesla’s dangerous and defective self-driving software.
To read Dan’s full interview with Benzinga, please follow the link here.
EXCLUSIVE: Dawn Project’s Dan O’Dowd Warns Tesla’s ‘Terrible’ FSD Could Be Banned, Blames Musk For Coordinated Online Attacks
Dan O’Dowd, CEO of Green Hills Software and founder of The Dawn Project, is well-known among Tesla and electric vehicle enthusiasts, although not always for popular reasons. In an exclusive interview with Benzinga, he shared his views on various topics, including his ongoing social media clash with Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk and his mission to enhance software safety.
The FSD Problem: Contrary to what one might expect, O’Dowd has been an avid Tesla vehicle driver for the past 13 years. His family also embraces the electric automaker, with two original Roadsters in his possession, a Tesla Model S driven by his wife, and two Model 3s used by the Dawn project for their experiments.
The Dawn Project’s primary objective is to promote safer software across various applications, including electric vehicles. However, within the electric vehicle community, it is most recognized for advocating a ban on Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) software.
O’Dowd even ran for Senate in 2022, personally spending millions of dollars on a national advertising campaign aimed at what he called Tesla’s”unbelievably bad” self-driving technology.
He didn’t hold back in his criticism of Tesla’s FSD, stating, “In about every 10 miles, it does something dumb. At least every few hours, it will try to kill you.”
As part of their testing, O’Dowd’s team discovered a flaw in Tesla’s driver monitoring system, which is designed to ensure that the driver remains attentive to the road while FSD is active. The system failed to detect various scenarios, such as the driver wearing sunglasses, looking out the window, sleeping, or even being absent from the driver’s seat, O’Dowd said.
Tesla did not respond to Benzinga’s request for comments.
“It couldn’t tell there was nobody. Then we put a teddy bear in there and we put balloons in there, all sorts of different things in the driver’s seat. It never complains, even though it’s supposed to complain unless there’s a person there watching the road,” O’Dowd said.
Dawn’s Expanding Radar: To evaluate the performance of Tesla’s FSD against other autonomous driving technologies, O’Dowd’s team conducted tests with General Motors‘ Cruise and Alphabet Inc‘s Waymo in San Francisco. While Cruise does have occasional errors, it can go up to 30,000 miles without a mistake, whereas a Tesla, in comparison, struggles after just 10 miles, he stated.
To put this to the test, O’Dowd and his team conducted a side-by-side experiment, driving both a Cruise and a Tesla along the same route. While Cruise performed flawlessly, Tesla missed its turn three times and narrowly avoided two accidents, Dawn Project Driver Arthur Maltin said.
O’Dowd pointed out that Tesla’s “problematic software” has tragically resulted in over 20 fatalities, while Waymo and Cruise have maintained a clean safety record. However, O’Dowd acknowledged that even Cruise is not infallible.
Not all experts share O’Dowd’s call for an FSD ban, with some believing that Musk may eventually overcome the technology’s limitations.
“People have to make a choice. He’s (Musk) either lying. Or an idiot. Or he’s going to actually get this thing done,” O’Dowd said, adding that he believes the Tesla CEO is lying.
Musk, in the meantime, has previously pegged autonomy to be the main driver of the company’s market value. And some analysts are indeed hopeful.
We taught a bear how to drive a Tesla! 🐻🎈🦄 👻 pic.twitter.com/xp2b5B6vrp
— Dan O'Dowd (@RealDanODowd) August 3, 2023
Ark Investment Management CEO Cathie Wood said in an interview earlier this year that she sees FSD as the “most impactful AI project out there.” She said the threat of taking Tesla vehicles equipped with FSD capability off the road is not concerning as a new Tesla car equipped with FSD is five times safer than the old ones that do not have it.
Tesla investor and Future Fund’s Gary Black believes Tesla will be the first to solve FSD and that others will likely catch up one to two years later. The fund manager is, however, skeptical of the timeline given regulatory roadblocks.
The F35 Incident: O’Dowd also addressed the recent incident involving a Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet crash in South Carolina. He alleged that Tesla enthusiasts, including Musk, unjustly blamed his company’s software for the crash, even though various factors could have contributed.
O’Dowd emphasized that Green Hills Software conducts rigorous testing, and the crash investigation is ongoing.
Regarding the online backlash he’s faced, O’Dowd believes it’s an attempt to silence him. “Elon Musk is behind it. He gets these people organized and they go after people. Anybody who speaks anything negative,” he said. He pointed to two tweets from Musk that criticized his statements and questioned his engineering credibility.
Musk acquired X (formerly Twitter), gaining access to a vast following where he could share his ideas without any intermediaries like journalists or reviewers, Dan explained.
Earlier Clashes: O’Dowd also noted that this isn’t the first time he’s faced online attacks. Similar accusations arose when a child tragically lost their life in an accident involving a BMW in Munich and when two Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashed in 2019. In both cases, it was established that Green Hills, O’Dowd’s company, had no involvement.
Musk and his supporters initiated a similar campaign against academic Missy Cummings after she published a critical paper about Tesla and was on the verge of being hired by the NHTSA in 2021, O’Dowd said.
“Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla,” Musk wrote on X at the time.
Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 20, 2021
O’Dowd, however, remains resolute. He said his business is secure, and despite Musk’s threats of a lawsuit, none has materialized.
Future Of FSD: O’Dowd believes that people will eventually call for a ban on the FSD software. “Eventually. It’s such a bad product. It’s so terrible. It’s fixing isn’t going to work.”
The next time the FSD gets involved in a high-profile situation where it kills a senator’s child or a school bus of children or “something newsworthy like that,” people will eventually call for the ban this year or the next. “It can’t be five years,” he added optimistically.