Jan 17 (Reuters) – A 2016 video used by Tesla ( TSLA.O ) to promote its self-driving technology was set to show capabilities such as stop on red and accelerate on green, which the system did not have, according to testimony from a senior engineer .
The video, which is still archived on Tesla’s website, was released in October 2016 and promoted on Twitter by CEO Elon Musk as proof that “Tesla drives itself.”
But the Model X didn’t drive with the technology Tesla implemented, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla, said in a transcript of a July deposition taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla over a 2018 fatal crash involving the former Apple ( AAPL.O) Engineer.
Elluswamy’s previously unreported testimony marks the first time a Tesla employee has confirmed and explained in detail how the video was recorded.
The video carries a tagline that says, “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He doesn’t do anything. The car drives itself.”
Elluswamy said Tesla’s Autopilot team set out to construct and record a “system capability demonstration” at Musk’s request.
Eluswami, Musk and Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. However, the company warned drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicles while using Autopilot.
Tesla’s technology is designed to assist with steering, braking, gear and lane changes, but its features “do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the company says on its website.
To make the video, Tesla used 3D mapping on a predetermined route from its home in Menlo Park, Calif., to Tesla’s then-headquarters in Palo Alto, he said.
The drivers intervened to take control in the test drives, he said. When he tried to demonstrate that the Model X could be parked without a driver, the test car crashed into a fence in Tesla’s parking lot, he said.
“The video was not intended to accurately represent what was available to customers in 2016.” It was to show what could be built into the system,” Eluswamy said, according to a transcript of his testimony seen by Reuters.
When Tesla released the video, Musk tweeted: “Tesla drives (no human input at all) city streets to highway to streets, then finds a place to park.
Tesla is facing lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny over its driver assistance systems.
The US Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into Tesla’s claims that its electric vehicles could drive themselves by 2021, after numerous crashes, some of them fatal, involving Autopilot, Reuters reported.
The New York Times reported in 2021 that Tesla engineers made a 2016 video to promote Autopilot without disclosing that the route was pre-mapped or that the car crashed in an attempt to complete the footage, citing anonymous sources.
When asked if the 2016 video showed the performance of the Tesla Autopilot that was available in the production car at the time, Elluswamy said, “No.
Eluswami was deposed in a lawsuit against Tesla over the 2018 crash in Mountain View, California that killed Apple engineer Walter Huang.
Andrew McDevitt, a lawyer representing Huang’s wife who questioned Elluswamy in July, told Reuters it was “obviously wrong to show that video without any disclaimer or star”.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Board concluded in 2020 that Huang’s fatal crash was likely caused by his distraction and autopilot limitations. It said Tesla’s “ineffective driver engagement monitoring” contributed to the crash.
Elluswamy said drivers could be “fooling the system,” stating that Tesla’s system believed it was paying attention based on feedback from the steering wheel when it wasn’t. But he said he hasn’t seen any safety issues with Autopilot if drivers are paying attention.
Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing: Kevin Krolicki and Lisa Shumaker
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