Tesla’s ‘Fully Self-Driving’ Controversy Now Features Homemade Mannequins and Real Kids Testing

The North Carolina resident set out to refute a widely circulated video of a Tesla with the company’s ‘completely autonomous’ beta software – which allows the car to steer, brake and accelerate, but requires a driver attentive human ready to take the wheel — plowing into child-size mannequins.
Dan O’Dowd, CEO of a software company that posted the video earlier this month, think the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to ban “complete self-driving” until Tesla CEO Elon Musk “proves he won’t mow down the kids.”
That’s when Cupani, who runs an auto shop focused on imports and Teslas, got involved and recruited his son. While he describes himself as a “BMW guy,” Cupani says the software can’t compare to what Tesla offers. It wasn’t the first time he enlisted his son, who Cupani said is 11, either, in a potentially viral car business: Earlier this year he posted a video of his son driving his car. Model S Plaid – which can reach 0-60 in 1.99 seconds – in a private car park. It has been viewed over 250,000 times.

“Some people look at him and say, ‘Oh that crazy daddy, what is he doing? ‘” Cupani told CNN Business. “Well, I do a lot of things like that, but I’m going to make sure my kid doesn’t get hit.”

Cupani filmed the “full self-driving” test in a parking lot. Her son stood near the end of a driveway holding a smartphone to film the test. Cupani sped the Tesla across the field and activated “fully autonomous driving”, hitting 35 mph. The Tesla braked steadily and came to a stop – long before his son.
Cupani did another test with his son on a street using Autopilot, Tesla’s most rudimentary driver assistance software, and found it stopped for his son as well. “This Dan guy, he says he’s an expert on this, an expert on that,” Cupani said. “Well, I’m an automotive expert, future tech, professional driving instructor.”
Cupani is one of many Tesla supporters who took issue with O’Dowd’s video and decided to create their own tests. Some asked their children to help them. Others made homemade mannequins or used inflatable dolls.
Passionate defenses and criticisms of “fully autonomous driving” underscore how the technology has become a flashpoint in the industry. The California DMV recently said the name “full self-driving” was misleading and warranted the suspension or revocation of Tesla’s license to sell vehicles in the state. Ralph Nader, whose criticism of the auto industry in the 1960s helped found the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), joined a chorus of critics of “fully autonomous driving” this month.

But it’s also another example of the unintended consequence of rolling out unfinished, disruptive technology in the wild — and shows how far some Tesla supporters are willing to go to defend it and the company. Enough people seemed to be pursuing their own experiments that a government agency took the extraordinary step of warning people not to use children to test car technology.

“Consumers should never attempt to create their own test scenarios or use real people, and especially children, to test the performance of vehicle technology,” NHTSA said in a statement Wednesday. The agency called this approach “very dangerous”.

Test Teslas

Earlier this month, California resident Tad Park saw that another Tesla enthusiast wanted to try ‘fully self-driving’ with a child and volunteered. two of his children. Park told CNN Business it was “a bit difficult” to get his wife to accept. She agreed when he promised to drive the vehicle.

“I will never push the envelope because my kids are so much more precious to me than anything,” Park said. “I’m not going to risk their lives in any way.”

Park’s tests, unlike O’Dowd’s, started with the Tesla at 0 mph. The Tesla stopped in all of Park’s tests in front of two of his children involved in the video, including a 5-year-old. Park said he was not comfortable doing a higher speed test of 40mph – like O’Dowd did with the models – with his children.
Toronto resident Franklin Cadamuro created a “box boy”, a childlike shape made from old cardboard boxes from Amazon. “Don’t blame me for what the car does or doesn’t do,” he posted at the start of his video. “I’m a huge Tesla fan.”
A "full self-driving" test on a "box boy" mannequin - a childlike form that Franklin Cadamuro made from old cardboard boxes from Amazon.

His Tesla slowed down as “box boy” approached. Then he sped up again and hit his cardboard dummy. Cadamuro speculated that this could be because the cameras couldn’t see the short boxes once they were immediately in front of the bumper, and therefore forgot they were there.

Human babies learn at about eight months that an object out of sight still exists, many years before they qualify for a driver’s license. But the ability may still elude some artificial intelligence systems like Tesla’s “fully autonomous driving.” Another Tesla fan found a similar result.

Cadamuro said his video started out as entertainment. But he wanted people to see that “fully autonomous driving” isn’t perfect.

“I find a lot of people have two extreme ideas about the ‘fully autonomous driving’ beta,” Cadamuro said. “People like Dan think it’s the worst thing in the world. I know friends who think it’s almost perfect.”

Cadamuro said he also performed other tests in which his Tesla, traveling at higher speeds, effectively steered around “box boy”.

According to Raj Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies autonomous vehicles, quickly and accurately detecting smaller objects like young children will generally be more difficult than detecting large objects and adults for a computer vision system. like the one that Tesla vehicles are based on.

The more pixels an object occupies in a camera image, the more information the system has to detect features and identify the object. The system will also be impacted by the data it is trained on, such as the number of images of young children it is exposed to.

“Computer vision with machine learning is not 100% foolproof,” Rajkumar said. “Just like diagnosing a disease, there are always false positives and false negatives.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment and generally does not engage with trade media.

“Wild West Chaos Rules”

Following criticism from Tesla fans of his original tests, O’Dowd posted another video this month.

Some Tesla supporters had criticized O’Dowd’s use of cones as lane markings during his original tests, which may have limited the sedan’s ability to steer around the dummy. Others claimed that O’Dowd’s test driver forced the Tesla to hit the dummy by stepping on the accelerator, which was not visible in videos posted by O’Dowd. Some Tesla enthusiasts have also reported blurry messages on the Tesla vehicle screen indicating that O’Dowd’s test driver was pressing the accelerator to rig the tests.

Dan O'Dowd has performed tests with dummies and says this demonstrates that

O’Dowd told CNN Business that the blurry messages referred to the unavailability of supercharging and uneven tire wear. CNN Business could not independently verify what the message said because O’Dowd did not provide any clearer video of what happened in the car during testing.

In her second video, O’Dowd’s tested without cones on a residential street and showed the interior of the Tesla, including the accelerator pedal. The Tesla, as in O’Dowd’s other tests, struck the child dummy.
O’Dowd lamented earlier this year in an interview with CNN Business that no industry testing organization reviews the “complete self-driving” code. The US government does not have performance standards for automated driving assistance technology like Autopilot.

O’Dowd is the founder of Project Dawn, an effort to make computers safe for mankind. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate this year in a campaign focused exclusively on his criticism of “total self-driving.”

NHTSA is currently investigating Tesla’s driver assistance technology, so changes may be coming.

“The software that controls the lives of billions of people in self-driving cars should be the best software ever written,” O’Dowd said. “We’re using the absolute chaos rules of the Wild West and we got something so terrible.”


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