The Head of Technology is Paying Millions to Stop Elon Musk

Tesla's "Full Self Driving" software, according to Dan O'Dowd, shouldn't be used on public roads. Until someone pays attention, he will continue to run over test subjects.

Dan O'Dowd purchased two nearly identical Tesla Roadsters, the first model the electric automobile manufacturer had made, during his midlife crisis. A Model 3 with Full Self-Driving Beta, a piece of software that enables the car to drive independently on freeways and congested city streets, was added to the 66-year-old tech entrepreneur's collection this year.

The third Tesla is essential for O'Dowd's strange hobby: he is spending millions of dollars to stop Tesla CEO Elon Musk from implementing plans to make the technology widely accessible by the end of the year.

O'Dowd, who made his wealth selling software to the military, has been testing and documenting the self-driving software using the Model 3. He appears to have recorded instances of the car driving across the center line into oncoming traffic, not slowing down in a school zone, and failing to stop at stop signs. He caused a stir last summer by posting a video of his Tesla supposedly operating in Full Self-Driving mode and mowing down miniature dolls.

In an interview from his Santa Barbara office, where glass cases display his collection of ancient coins and auction-purchased mementos from NASA moon missions, O'Dowd said, "If Tesla gets away with this and ships this product and I can't convince the public that a self-driving car that drives like a drunk, suicidal 13-year-old shouldn't be on the road, I'm going to fail."

In his one-man campaign to stop what he views as the hasty development of dangerous technology, O'Dowd has run national TV ads with the videos and even launched an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. O'Dowd and other skeptics believe that the program is a lethal experiment that was imposed on an unknowing public. A recent class-action lawsuit and a Department of Justice investigation into the technology support this claim.

Despite O'Dowd's well-publicized campaign and the worries of certain legislators and authorities, Tesla is moving forward with what it calls technology that will change the world. The business and others who support it claim that their strategy would hasten the end of road fatalities caused by human mistake. At the end of September, Musk claimed Full Self-Driving is already saving lives and that it would be "morally wrong" to keep it off of public roads during a four-hour event where Tesla showcased its most recent artificial intelligence technology.

Musk added, "I think you have a moral obligation to deploy it even though you're going to get sued and blamed by a lot of people at the point where you believe that adding autonomy minimizes injury and death." Requests for response from the media were not answered by Musk or Tesla, which usually does not speak to the press.

Getting Fully Prepared Making plans for a global rollout by the end of the month adds to Musk's already hefty burden. He currently owns and operates Twitter in addition to Tesla, SpaceX, and his other businesses Neuralink and SpaceX. Tesla engineers have also been hired by Musk to assist with Twitter operations.

Musk's hordes of admirers have attacked O'Dowd personally and criticized him for his endeavors. In response to O'Dowd's child mannequin test, Tesla sent him a cease-and-desist letter. And this week, O'Dowd claims a new Twitter advertisement he attempted to run was turned down.

Tesla supporters aren't his only detractors, either. Safety professionals have questioned if independent rogue testing is the best strategy to encourage stricter regulation.

They are performing it on public streets. According to Phil Koopman, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has long studied autonomous automobile safety, "it still raises the same ethical questions because you're placing other individuals at nonconsensual risk." No matter who it is, I'm not a fan.

Lucia Sanchez, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, advised consumers against attempting to develop their own test scenarios.

O'Dowd's belief that software should be created deliberately and thoroughly tested for security before being released contrasts sharply with the maxim "move fast and break things" that helped businesses like Google, Facebook, and Amazon grow into the behemoths they are today. He asserts that Tesla has applied that maxim to the use of public roads.

Those who oppose O'Dowd claim that his crusade against Tesla is self-serving: One of his clients, Mobileye, which is purchased by Intel, produces a computer processor that powers driver-assist and self-driving software. O'Dowd claims that Mobileye is only one of hundreds of clients, and that the only thing that motivates him is his worry about the security of Tesla's technology.

For years, Tesla cars have had a variety of driver-assist capabilities known as Autopilot, including autonomous braking and lane-keeping. According to research firm Canalys, millions of vehicles in the U.S. have advanced drive-assist technologies, and more than 60% of the vehicles delivered in 2021 have lane-keeping capabilities.

According to information made public by NHTSA in June, Tesla vehicles were involved in roughly 70% of the 392 crashes employing advanced drive-assist capabilities that were reported in the prior 11 months.

Additionally, the NHTSA noted six fatalities involving the features beginning in 2019, five of which were related to Tesla vehicles. Direct comparisons with other manufacturers are challenging since the data set doesn't take into consideration the various ways that automakers collect data.

However, the business's Full Self-Driving Beta program, which is presently accessible to about 160,000 drivers in the United States and Canada, goes further than anything else used by regular drivers on public roads by enabling the car to navigate through city and residential streets, stop for red lights, and make turns on its own while adhering to a route.

Everyone assumes I'm exaggerating, but O'Dowd replied, "I have never seen a worse program in my life.