Tesla’s ‘fully self-driving’ debate heats up with legal threats and banned videos

Some of the videos caught the attention of YouTube and Tesla. YouTube removed several test videos involving real children, citing safety risks. (The children were not harmed or harmed in the posted videos.) Now Tesla wants the video that started it all taken down as well.

On August 11, the automaker sent a cease-and-desist letter alleging defamation to Dan O’Dowd, CEO of a software company and outspoken critic of « fully autonomous driving, » demanding that he remove the critical videos. O’Dowd had also published an additional video showing similar results on a public street following criticism of his methodology by Tesla supporters.

Tesla’s assistant general counsel, Dinna Eskin, warned of legal action if O’Dowd fails to comply with the automaker’s demands. The cease and desist letter was published Thursday by The Washington Post.

O’Dowd responded to the cease and desist with a 1,736-word post in which he pushed back against the suggestion that his posts were defamatory, defended his tests and fired barbs from Musk and some Tesla supporters. .

« I can afford not to be intimidated by these threats, » O’Dowd said. Elizabeth Markowitz, spokesperson for the O’Dowd-led Project Dawn, which he calls an effort to make computers safe for mankind, said O’Dowd is also responding to the letter with an additional $2 million dedicated promoting the video.

Ongoing online clashes between Tesla fans and critics highlight both the strong reactions to the automaker and the ripple effects of it deploying a test version of a disruptive technology to the audience. The driver assistance feature that Tesla calls « full self-driving » is designed to navigate local roads with steering, acceleration and braking, but requires an attentive human driver ready to take control because the system « can do the wrong thing at the worst time, » Tesla warns drivers.

O’Dowd said he believes the software controlling self-driving cars should be the best ever written. He ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in California earlier this year, with a campaign focused solely on his criticism of « total self-driving ». O’Dowd is the founder and CEO of Green Hills Software.

Backlash from Tesla fans

Tesla fans who felt O’Dowd’s video was unfair took to YouTube to share footage of their own testing.

YouTube has removed at least three videos from its service from users other than O’Dowd of adults testing « fully autonomous driving » with children. YouTube spokeswoman Elena Hernandez cited its policies on harmful and dangerous content. « We don’t allow content that shows or encourages minors in dangerous situations that could lead to injury, including dangerous stunts, dares or pranks, » Hernandez said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also took the unusual step last week to warn consumers not to test vehicle technology on children.

Omar Qazi, who posted a test video with two children of parent Tad Park and had the video taken down a few days later, said on Twitter that he had appealed the decision. Park declined to comment, and Qazi did not respond to a request for comment.

Carmine Cupani, who had two videos taken from YouTube, said his videos were « harmless » and he felt YouTube was unfairly targeting Tesla videos. He also appealed the decision and said YouTube may have had commercial motives, although he said he wasn’t sure. Cupani pointed to a video available on YouTube of children appearing to jump through buildings. YouTube has not commented on Cupani’s criticisms.

Waymo, the self-driving arm of YouTube parent company Alphabet, could be a long-term competitor to Tesla in the self-driving space. Waymo spokesman Nick Smith said the company was not involved in YouTube’s decision.

Jon Herrity, a Tesla fan and Chicago-area parent, told CNN Business he plans to do more « fully self-driving » tests to challenge O’Dowd’s findings, but he doesn’t. would not involve his children.

Herrity was among the first to respond to O’Dowd with an August 11 video that was the most viewed video ever on his channel, and which YouTube has not removed. He stuffed some of his six-year-old daughter’s clothes with newspapers and used a balloon for her head. The dummy was held together with safety pins and tape.

“I planned it in 10 minutes, I built it in 15 minutes,” Herrity said. « I think a lot of people laughed at that. They were like, is this guy really serious? »

Herrity followed up with a second video with a new model, worried that her first model didn’t look human enough.

Herrity said he was suspicious of a short clip in his second video when his daughters walked past his Tesla while « fully self-driving » was not active. The test showed that the car sometimes recognized them on an onboard visualization of the road ahead.

« We really shouldn’t be testing with kids, » Herrity said. « I could have accidentally had a stroke or whatever and all of a sudden my foot hits the accelerator or a heart attack or who knows what could happen. There’s always that chance. »

He said he bought an inflatable dummy on eBay for future testing and would rely on adults to help him.

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