Tesla’s video promoting autonomous driving was staged, engineer testifies | CNN Business
A 2016 video that Tesla ( TSLA ) ( TSLA ) used to promote its self-driving technology was staged to show capabilities like stopping at a red light and accelerating on a green light that the system lacked, according to the testimony of a senior engineer. .
The video, which remains archived on Tesla’s website, was released in October 2016 and was touted on Twitter by CEO Elon Musk as proof that “Tesla drives itself.”
But the Model X wasn’t driving itself with the technology Tesla had deployed, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Tesla’s Autopilot software, said in the transcript of a July deposition taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla for a fatal accident in 2018 involving a former Apple ( AAPL ) ( AAPL ) engineer.
Elluswamy’s unreported testimony represents the first time a Tesla employee has confirmed and detailed 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. They are not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”
Elluswamy said Tesla’s Autopilot team set out to design 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 to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicles while using Autopilot.
Tesla’s technology is designed to help with steering, braking, speeding 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 maps of a predetermined route from a home in Menlo Park, Calif., to Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, he said.
Drivers stepped in to take control in testing, he said. When he tried to demonstrate 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 portray what was available to customers in 2016. It was to portray what was possible to put into the system,” Elluswamy said, according to a transcript of his testimony seen by Reuters.
When Tesla released the video, Musk tweeted: “Tesla drives (no human intervention) through city streets to freeway to streets and then finds a parking spot.”
Tesla faces lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny over its driver assistance systems.
The US Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into Tesla’s claims that its electric vehicles will be able to drive themselves by 2021, after a series of accidents, some of them fatal, with Autopilot, has Reuters reported.
The New York Times reported in 2021 that Tesla engineers had 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 the shoot, citing unnamed sources .
Asked if the 2016 video showed the performance of Tesla’s Autopilot system available in a production car at the time, Elluswamy said, “It doesn’t.”
Elluswamy was deposed 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 challenged Elluswamy’s in July, told Reuters it was “obviously misleading to show this video without any disclaimer or asterisk.”
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded in 2020 that Huang’s fatal crash was likely caused by his distraction and Autopilot limitations. He said Tesla’s “ineffective driver engagement monitoring” had contributed to the crash.
Elluswamy said drivers could “trick the system,” making a Tesla system think they were paying attention based on steering wheel feedback when they weren’t. But he said he didn’t see any safety issues with Autopilot if drivers were paying attention.