Engineer Says Tesla Self-Driving Video Was Staged

'The intent of the video was not to accurately portray what was available for customers in 2016'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 17, 2023 8:38 PM CST
Engineer Says Tesla Self-Driving Video Was Staged
The Tesla company logo is seen on the hood of an unsold vehicle at a dealership in Littleton, Colorado.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

A 2016 video promoting Tesla's self-driving technology wasn't what it appeared to be, a Tesla engineer testified. In previously unreported testimony, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software, said the video was staged and the Tesla Model X involved wasn't really driving itself, reports Reuters. "The intent of the video was not to accurately portray what was available for customers in 2016. It was to portray what was possible to build into the system." At the start of the video, which is still on Tesla's website, a title card says, "the person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons" and "he is not doing anything. The car is driving by itself."

"Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot," Elon Musk said in an Oct. 2016 tweet with a link to the video. Elluswamy testified that the Tesla in the video was "was using additional premapped information" to follow a predetermined route and contrary to what the video depicted, the version of Autopilot being used had "no traffic-light-handling capability," the Verge reports. In his July testimony, he said he was part of the team that set out to create a "demonstration of the system’s capabilities" at Musk's request.

Elluswamy's deposition was taken in June in connection with a lawsuit filed by the family of Apple engineer Walter Huang, whose Tesla Model X was in Autopilot mode when it slammed into a concrete barrier in a fatal crash in 2018. He had previously complained about Autopilot causing the car to veer toward the same barrier. It was "obviously misleading to feature that video without any disclaimer or asterisk," Andrew McDevitt, a lawyer for the family, tells Reuters. In a separate case, a jury was selected Tuesday for a trial to determine whether Musk acted recklessly and caused shareholders harm with a 2018 tweet claiming he had lined up funding to take Tesla private, the AP reports. (Read more Tesla stories.)

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