Tesla Video Promoting Autonomous Driving Was Staged, Engineer Testifies

Tesla Video Promoting Autonomous Driving Was Staged, Engineer Testifies

Jan 17 (Portal) – A 2016 video Tesla (TSLA.O) used to promote its self-driving technology was staged to show abilities like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that enable the The system reportedly did not have a senior engineer’s statement.

The video, which remains archived on Tesla’s website, was released in October 2016 and promoted on Twitter by Chief Executive Elon Musk as proof that “Tesla drives itself.”

But the Model X didn’t drive itself using the technology Tesla employed, said Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla’s director of autopilot software, in the transcript of a July testimony used as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla over a fatal accident in the year 2018 with a former Apple (AAPL.O) engineer.

Elluswamy’s previously unreported testimony marks the first time a Tesla employee has confirmed and explained in detail how the video was produced.

The video carries a tagline that reads: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He does nothing. The car drives itself.”

Elluswamy said Tesla’s Autopilot team set out to construct and record a “demonstration of the system’s capabilities” at Musk’s request.

Elluswamy, Musk and Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. However, the company has warned drivers that they must keep their hands on the wheel and remain in control of their vehicles while using autopilot.

Tesla’s technology is said to help with steering, braking, speed and lane changes, but its features “do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the company says on its website.

To create the video, Tesla used 3D mapping along a predetermined route from a home in Menlo Park, California, to Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters at the time, he said.

Drivers stepped in to take control during test runs, he said. In an attempt to show that the Model X could park itself without a driver, a test car crashed into a fence in Tesla’s parking lot, he said.

“The intent of the video was not to accurately represent what was available to customers in 2016. It was meant to represent what could be built into the system,” Elluswamy said, according to a transcript of his testimony seen by Portal.

When Tesla released the video, Musk tweeted, “Tesla drives itself (no human intervention whatsoever) through city streets to highways to streets and then finds a parking spot.”

Tesla is facing lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny over its driver assistance systems.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into Tesla’s claims that its electric vehicles will be able to drive themselves in 2021 after a series of accidents, some fatal, involving Autopilot, Portal reported.

The New York Times reported in 2021 that Tesla engineers created the 2016 video to promote Autopilot without disclosing that the route had been mapped in advance or that a car had crashed trying to complete filming, under Citing anonymous sources.

When asked if the 2016 video showed the performance of the Tesla Autopilot system, which was available in a production car at the time, Elluswamy said, “It doesn’t.”

Elluswamy was removed in a lawsuit against Tesla over a 2018 crash in Mountain View, California that killed Apple engineer Walter Huang.

Andrew McDevitt, the lawyer representing Huang’s wife and who questioned Elluswamys in July, told Portal it was “obviously misleading to show this video without a disclaimer or asterisks.”

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded in 2020 that Huang’s fatal crash was likely caused by his distraction and autopilot limitations. It said Tesla’s “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement” contributed to the crash.

Elluswamy said drivers could “fool the system” and trick a Tesla system into thinking they were paying attention based on feedback from the steering wheel, when they weren’t. But he said he doesn’t see a safety issue with autopilot if drivers are careful.

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Edited by Kevin Krolicki and Lisa Shumaker

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