A Tesla Full Self-Driving smear campaign launched by a California billionaire Senate candidate has a new attack ad based on an FSD Beta ‘test’, where they didn’t realize they never hired FSD Beta during the test.
Earlier this year, we reported on Dan O’Dowd, a self-proclaimed billionaire and founder of Green Hills Software, a private company that makes operating systems and programming tools.
O’Dowd had launched a Senate campaign in his home state of California, but the tech executive made it clear he was making it a one-issue campaign, and that issue is the Full Self-Driving program of You’re here.
Under the protection of political ads, he invested several million dollars in an advertising campaign to attack Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta program in an attempt to have it banned from public roads in the United States.
Yesterday the campaign, called The Dawn Project, ran this ad titled “The Dangers of Tesla’s Fully Self-Driving Software”:
As explained in the video and its description, O’Dowd’s team claims that this is a test of Tesla’s “latest version of Full Self-Driving Beta software (10.12.2)”, where the system hangs on a child-sized dummy:
Our safety test of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving technology’s ability to avoid a stationary dummy of a small child conclusively demonstrated that Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software does not avoid the child or slow down even when a child size mannequin is in plain view.
However, there is a real problem with the test: they never activated Tesla’s beta FSD in the test.
On their website, The Dawn Project describes the test and claims that “Full Self-Driving Mode” was “engaged” (steps 3 and 4 in their descriptions are the most important):
- Road cones were placed on the course in a standard layout to mark a 120 meter long traffic lane. OSHA compliant traffic cones were used.
- Many child-sized dummies were placed in the middle of the profile test lane, as if crossing the road. The models were located in the middle of the lane at the end of the track, dressed in various outfits.
- A professional test driver took the vehicle to a speed of forty (40) miles per hour, then engaged Full Self-Driving mode once the car entered the lane defined by the cones.
- The vehicle was traveling approximately one hundred (100) meters in the cone lane in fully autonomous mode before hitting each dummy.
- The test driver’s hands were never on the steering wheel, and the test driver did not step on the accelerator or apply the brakes during the test.
According to their test results, FSD Beta was activated at 40 mph within 100 meters of the dummy, and in three tests it always hit the dummy between 24 and 27 mph:
These results would indicate that the driver is not activating the beta FSD and the car is slowing at these speeds above 100 meters before reaching the target.
Sure enough, The Dawn Project’s own video of the test shows the driver “activating” FSD Beta by pressing the autopilot stick, but we can clearly see that it didn’t activate as the heading prediction line remains gray and the autopilot wheel does not work. t appear at the top left:
Additionally, the vehicle continues to push an alert that cannot be played due to the resolution of the video. It is possible that the alert is related to FSD Beta.
The vehicle appears to be equipped with FSD Beta viewing, or at least FSD Beta viewing, but it was clearly not enabled during this video.
The explanation is probably quite simple. Tesla FSD Beta still relies on map data, and this test was conducted on a closed course at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California.
Electrek contacted The Dawn Project to point out that contrary to what they claim, Tesla FSD Beta was never “engaged” during the test based on their own images in the ad.
They contacted me again, but they could only provide an affidavit from the driver who performed the test, Art Haynie, stating in the affidavit that he believed FSD Beta was enabled:
The affidavit mentions that there is an “exhibit B” that showed a screen with a warning “regarding fully autonomous driving (beta)” that the vehicle displayed when in “fully autonomous driving mode”.
However, when I looked at appendix B, it was only a screenshot of the warning that appears when you accept the FSD Beta agreement in the car settings menu, not when you activate or engage it:
This warning does not appear when you activate the feature while driving and in no way proves that FSD Beta was active during the test.
Project Dawn’s PR team didn’t respond when I showed them a screenshot of their own video showing the FSD beta uncommitted, and they didn’t respond when I I asked if they still plan to run the ad, which already has over 240,000 hits on Youtube since it was posted yesterday (and for which comments have been disabled), and many more on TV.
Update: The Dawn Project has since released additional images which do not appear in their announcement where it can be seen that they were able to activate FSD, however, the images are inconsistent with the results published on the test and in the announcement .
For example, on the first run we can see that FSD sends an alert to grab the wheel well before the point of impact and the impact occurs at less than 20 mph, which is inconsistent with the results claiming that the impact occurred at 24, 27 and 25 mph:
Therefore, it is clear that The Dawn Project is manipulating the result and images of these tests, and the announcement clearly shows that FSD Beta is not active.
Look, anyone who’s followed this blog knows that I’m not an FSD Beta apologist. I find the system impressive, but I know it has serious problems.
I recently compared his performance to “the equivalent of a 14-year-old who’s been learning to drive for a week and sometimes seems to use hard drugs.” To be fair to the Tesla team, you could give me $1 billion and a thousand years, and I couldn’t make a car drive like a 14-year-old kid on drugs.
I believe the computer vision of the system is extremely good, but some of the decision making is really questionable.
That said, you can’t produce a test of FSD Beta where you don’t even enable FSD Beta properly. The Dawn Project and O’Dowd screwed up by posting this. They should remove that now, since they can’t pretend they don’t know the test failed at this point.
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