Tesla engineer admits 2016 self-driving promotional video was staged – report

Alexi Falson

Tesla’s director for Autopilot software, Ashok Elluswamy, has testified that parts of a promotional video from 2016 showcasing the autonomous driving system were staged to display abilities that weren’t available to customers at the time.

The revelation comes as the US Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into Tesla’s self-driving vehicles that have been involved in a number of crashes – some of which killed the driver. We reported on the video in question back in 2016, which showed the engineer behind the wheel of a self-driving Model X accompanied by a quote that he “is not doing anything” and that “the car is driving itself”.

Since then, the Autopilot director, Ashok Elluswamy said during a deposition that some of the Autopilot features, like stopping and starting at a set of traffic lights and self-parking weren’t working at the time. According to reports, Elluswamy said in his deposition: “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.”

He said that Elon Musk asked his team of engineers to produce a promotional video as a “demonstration of the system’s capabilities,” which Musk later posted to Twitter, stating: “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot.”

The engineer has said that ahead of the demonstration, the Model X created a specialised route in 3D mapping software from Menlo Park, California to Tesla’s previous HQ in Palo Alto. An Automotive News report states that during the test, “drivers intervened to take control” and that “when trying to show the Model X could park itself with no driver, a test car crashed into a fence in Tesla’s parking lot”.

Elluswamy was questioned on whether or not the video accurately represented the state of Tesla’s Autopilot system in 2016, to which he replied: “It does not.”

It’s understood Musk oversaw and directed the main angle of the video. It’s been reported by Automotive News than in an email sent to staff during the creation of the video, Musk said:

“Just want to be absolutely clear that everyone’s top priority is achieving an amazing Autopilot demo drive. Since this is a demo, it is fine to hardcode some of it, since we will backfill with production code later in an OTA update.”

The video can be seen below.

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