An October 2016 video that purported to showcase Tesla’s self-driving technology in action was actually staged, according to July 2022 testimony from a senior engineer at the company reviewed by Reuters, which was first to report the development.
As a result, the video depicted capabilities that Tesla’s technology had not yet attained, such as accelerating at a green light or stopping at red one, the engineer said.
The promotional video, posted on a tesla.com page titled “Full Self-Driving Hardware on All Teslas,” began with an explanatory screen that read, “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”
Likewise, when he promoted the video on Twitter, Elon Musk implied the car was driving itself with “no human input at all.”
Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot https://t.co/V2T7KGMPBo
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 20, 2016
However, in the deposition transcript reviewed by Reuters, Tesla director of autopilot software Ashok Elluswamy said human drivers intervened on the test runs — and when they tried showing the Tesla parking without a driver, the car crashed into a fence in the company’s parking lot.
The testimony from Elluswamy was submitted as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla over a deadly 2018 crash that killed Apple engineer Walter Huang in Mountain View, California.
“[It was] obviously misleading to feature that video without any disclaimer or asterisk,” Andrew McDevitt, an attorney for Huang’s widow, told Reuters.
In addition to civil action, Tesla is also the focus of a U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigation over the company’s statements about its vehicle’s self-driving capabilities.
“The intent of the video was not to accurately portray what was available for customers in 2016,” said Elluswamy. “It was to portray what was possible to build into the system.” However, the language in the video and from CEO Musk seems at odds with that goal.
Some eyebrow-raising facets of the video’s production were reported in 2021 by The New York Times, including that the car’s route had been charted ahead of time by software that wasn’t available to customers, and that the car hit a barrier on Tesla’s property, necessitating repairs.
According to that same Times report, when Tesla debuted Autopilot 2.0 in October 2016, Musk described it in terms that seemed to overstate the vehicle’s capabilities, taking his engineers by surprise.
The video in controversy is still posted on Tesla’s website, and we’ve embedded a YouTube copy below:
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