A Tesla video was made promoting autonomous driving, an engineer testifies

A Tesla video was made promoting autonomous driving, an engineer testifies

Jan 17 (Reuters) – A 2016 video used by Tesla (TSLA.O) to promote its self-driving technology was edited to show capabilities like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that the system did not have, according to the testimony of a senior engineer.

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

But the Model X didn’t drive itself with the technology that Tesla had implemented, Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla’s director of Autopilot software, said in the transcript of a July deposition taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla over a fatal 2018 crash that involved a former Apple (AAPL.O) engineer.

Elluswamy’s previously unreported testimony represents the first time a Tesla employee has confirmed and detailed how the video was produced.

The video has a tagline that reads: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car drives 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, 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 on a predetermined route from a home in Menlo Park, California, to Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters, he said.

Drivers stepped in to take control at the tests, he said. As he was trying to prove that the Model X could park itself without a driver, a test car crashed into a fence in the Tesla 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 incorporate into the system,” Elluswamy said, according to a transcript of his testimony seen by Reuters.

As Tesla released the video, Musk tweeted: “Tesla drives itself (without any human intervention) through urban streets to the freeway and then finds a parking spot.”

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

The US Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into Tesla’s claims that its electric vehicles can drive themselves by 2021, after a series of accidents, some of them fatal, involving Autopilot, 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 while trying to complete filming, citing unnamed sources.

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

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

Andrew McDevitt, the lawyer representing Huang’s wife who challenged Elluswamy in July, told Reuters it was “obviously misleading to show that 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 that Tesla’s “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement” had contributed to the accident.

Elluswamy said drivers could “fool the system,” making a Tesla system believe they were paying attention based on steering wheel feedback when they were not. But he said he didn’t see any safety issues with Autopilot if drivers were paying attention.

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

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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