According to testimony from a senior engineer, a 2016 video that Tesla used to advertise its self-driving technology was produced to depict skills like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that the system did not have.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, touted the video, which is still stored on the company’s website, on Twitter in October 2016 as proof that “Tesla drives itself.”
However, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla, stated in the transcript of a July deposition that was used as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla for a tragic collision in 2018 involving a former Apple engineer that the Model X was not operating by itself.
For the first time, a Tesla employee has confirmed and explained how the video was made in his or her previously unreported statement, which was provided by Elluswamy.
“The person in the driver’s seat is just there for legal reasons,” the tagline for the video reads. He is not acting in any way. The vehicle is self-driving.
At Musk’s request, the Tesla Autopilot team, according to Elluswamy, set out to design and document a “demonstration of the system’s capabilities.”
An inquiry for comments about Elluswamy, Musk, and Tesla received no response. However, the company has advised drivers that while using Autopilot, they must keep their hands on the wheel and remain in control of their vehicles.
According to the company’s website, the Tesla technology is intended to help with steering, braking, speed, and lane changes but its functions “do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
From a home in Menlo Park, California, to Tesla’s then-headquarters in Palo Alto, he added, the Tesla employed 3D mapping on a prearranged route to generate the film.
In test runs, drivers stepped in to assume control, he claimed. He said that a test vehicle ran into a fence in Tesla’s parking area while trying to demonstrate the Model X’s ability to park itself without a driver.
“The purpose of the film was not to adequately represent the options that customers had in 2016.” According to a transcript of his evidence obtained by Reuters, Elluswamy stated that it was intended to illustrate what may be incorporated into the system.
Musk tweeted, “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) from urban streets to freeway to streets, then finds a parking spot,” in response to Tesla’s release of the video.
Regarding its driving assistance technologies, Tesla is being sued and is under regulatory scrutiny.
After a number of collisions, some of them deadly, employing Autopilot, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a criminal inquiry into Tesla’s promises that its electric cars can drive themselves in 2021, according to Reuters.
Citing unnamed sources, the New York Times claimed in 2021 that Tesla engineers had produced the 2016 advertisement for Autopilot without mentioning that the route had been pre-mapped or that a car had crashed while attempting to complete the shot.
Elluswamy responded, “It does not,” when asked if the 2016 video demonstrated how well the Tesla Autopilot system performed in a production vehicle at the time.
In a lawsuit against Tesla over a 2018 accident in Mountain View, California, which killed Apple engineer Walter Huang, Elluswamy was called as a witness.
Asserting Elluswamy’s in July, Huang’s wife’s attorney Andrew McDevitt told Reuters that it was “clearly misleading to feature the video without any disclaimer or asterisk.”
Huang’s deadly crash was most likely brought on by his distraction and the limits of Autopilot, the National Transportation Safety Board reported in 2020. According to the report, the crash was caused in part by Tesla’s “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement.”
According to Elluswamy, drivers have the ability to “fool the system,” tricking a Tesla system into thinking they are paying attention by providing false feedback from the steering wheel. But if drivers were paying attention, he claimed he did not see any safety concerns with Autopilot.