The Super Bowl is a big eye-catcher - in the USA as well as internationally. One of Tesla's biggest critics and CEO Elon Musk used the world stage on Sunday as a setting for a critical spot. Specifically, the 30-second video clip sharply criticized Tesla's full self-driving system. He should state that the available beta version of autonomous driving is allegedly not safe.
The video showed a Tesla Model 3 ramming child-sized dolls and a stroller in the streets instead of slowing down or swerving in time. In other cases, the car goes off the road or does not respond correctly to road signs. All of this is said to have happened with Full Self-Driving (FSD) enabled. "Tesla's Full Self-Driving puts the public at risk," the ad said. "With misleading marketing and woefully inept technology."
The FSD is intended to enable vehicle control without driver intervention and is part of the autopilot. While it's still in beta, it's already available for $15,000. Around 400,000 customers in the USA have bought the system to date.
Behind the action is a multi-million dollar advertising campaign by "The Dawn Project", an initiative for secure software. According to her own statements, she wants to increase the security of computer-controlled systems and prevent the market launch of Tesla's FSD. Its founder, Dan O'Dowd, is a California tech CEO and arguably one of the biggest critics of the US electric car maker. He invests millions of dollars of his personal fortune to prove his claims and publicize his criticism of Tesla. The Super Bowl commercial cost $598,000 to air, according to a spokesman for The Dawn Project, CNN reports. To enforce the ban of the technology, he even ran for the US Senate in California - albeit without success.
The tech CEO runs critical ads nationwide and keeps posting videos to highlight the alleged danger of the self-driving system. Last summer he also showed a video of a Tesla crashing into child-sized mannequins. The electric car manufacturer responded with a cease and desist request. O'Dowd and "The Dawn Project" would "denigrate Tesla's commercial interests and disseminate defamatory information to the public," it said. O'Dowd denied the allegations.
After the spot aired at the Super Bowl, CNN reached out to Tesla for comment. The carmaker left the question unanswered. Even Musk, who is usually so active on Twitter, doesn't usually respond to tweets from O'Dowd. However, in late December, the Tesla CEO commented on the video, saying, "Dan is basically an unpaid intern on our QA [Quality Assurance] team lol." Musk probably wanted to ridicule his opponent. Finally, Tesla claims that its autonomous driving system is safer than conventional driving.
Meanwhile, the US Transportation Administration NHTSA is running several reviews of the Tesla autopilot. It is about a dozen accidents in which the self-driving system was activated. In late January, Tesla said the Justice Department had requested documents related to Tesla's Autopilot and FSD capabilities. So there are indeed doubts about the safety of the technology.
However, whether O'Dowd is really concerned for the safety of the public, or rather thinks of his own benefit, is probably questionable. Because the founder of "The Dawn Project" is also President and CEO of Green Hills Software, a company that develops software for autonomous cars such as BMW. His customers include Intel's auto subsidiary Mobileye, which is also involved in the development of autonomous vehicles. Many Elon Musk fans have accused O'Dowd of a conflict of interest.
Sources: CNN, Washington Post