Critics Zero in on Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Shortcomings

Tesla’s controversial Full Self-Driving software has come under withering attack again — this time from a computer industry watchdog claiming the tests of the software indicate it fails to stop for child-sized mannequins crossing a street.

Tesla FSD crash test dummy
Testing by The Dawn Project suggests Tesla’s Full Self-Driving technology isn’t safe.

Over the years, the automotive industry — with the help of university researchers — has developed families of crash-test dummies of various sizes, including children, to check the reactions of belted and unbelted dummies to a crash. As automotive technology, dummies are used to test of driver assistance features, such automatic or automated braking.

Software has some big blind spots

The Dawn Project, in a full-page ad in The New York Times, states Tesla’s Full-Self-Driving system fails to detect children and fails to stop, striking the small crash dummy. 

“Our testing of your latest Full-Self Driving Car has found that it will repeatedly run down a moving child sized mannequin in its path and yet 160,000 of these cars are still on our roads,” the ad notes despite the warning of potential for lethal accidents.

The Dawn Project was started by Dan O’Dowd, who is described as world’s leading expert in creating software that never fails and can’t be hacked. 

Dawn Project Tesla FSD ad

A graduate of the California Institute of Technology, which helped create Silicon Valley, O’Dowd is credited with helping develop the secure operating systems for projects including Boeing’s 787s, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Fighter Jets, the Boeing B1-B Intercontinental Nuclear Bomber, and NASA’s Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.

The Dawn Project’s website describes it mission as, “Making computers safe for humanity.” It states the software that runs the world must be made secure, and “All the software in safety critical systems must be replaced with software that never fails and can’t be hacked” to protect society.

Many software security experts would undoubtedly question whether this is possible. They would sincerely claim all software has bugs and every system can be hacked. Their experience would bear that out. However, their experience would be based on consumer and civilian systems. If they were to focus, for instance, on software for nuclear weapons systems they would think differently.

Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, is famous for not answering criticism or media inquiries except through his preferred social media platform, Twitter, which he now owns.

Tesla faces class action FSD

However, Tesla has been hit with a class action lawsuit for deceptive advertising around the FSD system, which is also under investigation by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA, which has yet to order a complete recall. 

Ralph Nader, the midwife of the modern automotive safety system, also has attacked Tesla for putting the system on the road, The Dawn Project noted in its ad, which appeared over the weekend.

Musk as described motorists using vehicles using FSD as his “beta testers,” and has promised to deliver the complete FSD system by the end of the year. He also has repeatedly cited the potential profits Tesla will realize once the system in proven to work.

Other automakers such General Motors, Ford, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been more cautious about hands-free driving systems, saying they are best used on pre-mapped limited access highways. They are also equipped with lidar, which basically a ground radar system that can see or identify potential dangers. Tesla vehicles no longer use lidar.

Jim Farley, CEO of Ford Motor Co., which last month discontinued its investment in self-driving vehicles, told investors creating the software capable of identifying the myriad challenges facing drivers, is one of the most difficult and daunting technical problems industry has ever faced.

Meanwhile, Musk has acquired his favorite platform, twitter. The acquisition has opened him up to new attacks from new vectors outside his normal expertise. This week he was caught on twitter raging against groups that have banded together to boycott advertising on twitter.

Investors fear the controversy around twitter has created a distractions or distractions, which are preventing Musk from larger issues at Tesla such as FSD, the repeatedly delayed Cybertruck and the crash involving one of the prototypes of one of his automated Class 8 trucks.