Does Tesla's autopilot stop for children in the street?

There’s been an acrimonious argument playing out over the past week as a leading Tesla critic has claimed the cars aren’t capable of stopping for children in the street. Here’s the video Dan O’Dowd posted last Tuesday claiming the autopilot system will “indiscriminately mow down children.”


It’s worth noting that Dan O’Dowd isn’t some disinterested observer. He’s the founder of something called the Dawn Project whose grandiose mission is to “make computers safe for humanity.” The Dawn Project’s major focus at the moment is to attack Elon Musk and Tesla’s Full Self Driving beta program.

Dan is applying his expertise in fail-safe technology to stand up to Elon Musk’s reckless deployment of unsafe Full Self-Driving cars on our roads.

Dan is running a nationwide advertising campaign, with an ad showing actual videos of shocking malfunctions in Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software.

O’Dowd is also the CEO of Green Hills Software a company which, not coincidentally, is involved in creating self-driving systems for cars.

Automated Driving Systems—comprised of advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicle functions—require the highest levels of safety and security in a vehicle. Many of today’s self-driving pilot programs run on consumer-grade platforms without the safety and security required for high-volume production. Using its decades of experience making life-critical avionics systems safe and secure, Green Hills Software is helping automotive companies achieve the safety and security necessary for production-level ADAS and automated driving systems.


O’Dowd may actually believe Tesla’s autopilot is unsafe but it’s also true that Tesla is a major competitor and trashing their reputation would probably help his own bottom line.

So after the video was released, a Twitter user who goes by Whole Mars Catalog, posted this response.

Whole Mars Catalog is a Tesla owner (real name Omar Qazi) who has been testing FSD beta for months and posting videos of his various test drives on YouTube. So he’s spent a lot of time with this system. He’s also someone who interacts with Elon Musk on Twitter fairly often so they seem to be friendly. His request for children led to an article at the Verge begging him not to do the test.


Don’t do that.

Really, I would totally just not do that. Don’t force a kid to walk in front of your 4,000-pound metal box traveling at god knows what speed just to prove a point to some dummy on Twitter who posted a thing and got you all mixed-up in the head.

Don’t put a kid’s life at risk to win a Twitter fight…

Maybe your test goes well. Maybe the kid lives and your point gets proven and the people you were trying to prove wrong are so embarrassed they turn into corncobs. But I can’t help but worry that some of your many followers will see you tweet about running over a kid with your Tesla to prove a point and think, “Hey, I could do that too!” And maybe their tests don’t go well. And then oops, dead kids.


Anyway, Whole Mars Catalog wasn’t kidding about the request and Sunday he released his own video titled “Does Tesla Full Self-Driving Beta Really Run Over Kids?” As you’ll see in this clip, he started out with dummies in the street, then with real adults and finally with an actual child. The child’s father was driving the car during that test. Not to spoil the surprise but no children or adults were injured in these tests. In every case, the car either stopped or slowed and drove around the person in the street.

As you’ll see at the end of this clip, there are accusations that Dan O’Dowd’s video was dishonest about the the initial test in several ways. But yesterday O’Dowd replied with another video in which he replies to some of those accusations. So I guess this debate isn’t over yet.


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