On Sunday night, the “safety advocacy group,” The Dawn Project, reportedly ponied up nearly $600,000 to run an ad during the Super Bowl, attacking Tesla’s full self-driving beta program (FSD Beta).
The Dawn Project was the group responsible for last summer’s promotional campaign entitled, “The Dangers of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Software,” which included a video of a Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) on FSD Beta hitting a child mannequin. And of course, that got a fair amount of attention.
Unfortunately, what didn’t get a lot of attention was the fact that the FSD Beta system on the Tesla was not engaged during the “test.”
Seems like something of that nature should’ve been clarified.
But according to analyst Fred Lambert, the man behind The Dawn Project, Dan O’Dowd, claims to produce software for the automotive industry and specifically for driver assist features, which makes it a direct competitor to Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD efforts.
I guess that explains the absence of clarification.
While there are certainly problems with Tesla’s FSD program, spending more than a half million dollars to scare people into believing that assisted-driving Teslas are going to run over children, and should ultimately be banned from the roads, is not only short-sighted, but arguably dangerous given the potential safety benefits of autonomous driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has actually opined on this …
Vehicle safety promises to be one of automation's biggest benefits. Higher levels of automation, referred to as automated driving systems, remove the human driver from the chain of events that can lead to a crash. While these systems are not available to consumers today, the advantages of this developing technology could be far-reaching.
What is available to consumers today: active safety systems. These are types of advanced driver assistance systems, which provide lower levels of automation that can assist a driver by anticipating imminent dangers and working to avoid them.
Collectively, these technologies will help protect drivers and passengers, as well as bicyclists and pedestrians.
Of course, we’re still in the earliest stages of this technology, and the NHTSA is actually investigating about 40 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where advanced driver assistance systems were being used.
So it’s not as if these vehicles aren’t being heavily scrutinized by regulators.
And the truth is, as we begin to transition to autonomous vehicles, there will be more crashes.
The same thing happened when we first started flying airplanes, sending people into outer space, and even putting traditional internal combustion vehicles on the roads more than a century ago.
In 50 years, folks will likely look back at this time the same way we now look back at those test flights of the earliest airplanes.
And that includes some of the failed attempts by the Wright Brothers.
I’m not saying safety shouldn’t be a very real concern, but we also can’t eschew progress, particularly when those opposing such progress clearly have ulterior motives.
Outside of the potential safety benefits, the NHTSA also points out the following …
- Automated driving systems, at their maturity, could increase mobility for seniors and people with disabilities and expand transportation options for underrepresented communities.
- Automated technologies could deliver additional economic and societal benefits. A NHTSA study showed that motor vehicle crashes cost billions each year. Eliminating the majority of vehicle crashes through technology could reduce this cost.
- Vehicle automation will potentially change the need for individualized parking spaces and lots, with increased use of automated ride share and shuttle fleets, which could dramatically transform land use. Also, vehicle electrification opens up possibilities to improve efficiency with less personal driving, resulting in further reductions of air pollutants from the transport sector.
- Americans spent an estimated 6.9 billion hours in traffic delays in 2014, cutting into time at work or with family, increasing fuel costs and vehicle emissions. Automated driving systems have the potential to improve efficiency and convenience.
Is it time to Invest in Autonomous vehicles?
While I do believe that one day, autonomous vehicles will be the standard, it’ll be decades before that happens. So any investments in companies focused on autonomous vehicles will certainly come with a fair amount of risk.
That being said, if you’re looking to learn more about some of the public companies actively operating in this space, here are a few you can check out …
- Luminar Technologies (NASDAQ: LAZR)
- Aurora (NASDAQ: AUR)
- Aptiv (NYSE: APTV)
- Innoviz Technologies (NASDAQ: INVZ)
- Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU)
- Ouster (NYSE: OUST)
- Embark Technology (NASDAQ: EMBK)
No matter how you slice it, autonomous vehicles ARE the future.
How long it’ll take us to get there is still a valid question. But we can’t let bad actors with suspicious motivations derail progress.
And as far as I’m concerned, that commercial was little more than a hatchet job, and should be called out for being dishonest.