Engineer testifies Tesla staged self-driving promotional video

Engineer testifies Tesla staged self-driving promotional video
© Reuters. Engineer testifies Tesla (TSLA) staged self-driving promotional video

By Michael Elkins

Transcripts from a previously unreported testimony by Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), regarding a video made to promote the EV maker’s self-driving technology shows that the company staged the event to make it look like the vehicle was operating on its own. The transcripts come from a July deposition taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla for a 2018 fatal crash. The video, which remains archived on Tesla’s website, was released in October 2016 and promoted on Twitter by CEO Elon Musk as evidence that “Tesla drives itself.”

The video was supposed to show self-driving capabilities, like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light, that according to the senior engineer, the system did not have. The video carries a tagline saying: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.” However, Elluswamy said in the transcript that the Model X shown in the video was not driving itself with technology Tesla had deployed.

Elluswamy said Tesla’s Autopilot team set out to engineer and record a “demonstration of the system’s capabilities” at the request of Musk.

To create the video, the Tesla used 3D mapping on a predetermined route from a house in Menlo Park, California, to Tesla’s then-headquarters in Palo Alto, he said. According to Elluswamy, Drivers intervened to take control in test runs. 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.

“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,” Elluswamy said, according to a transcript of his testimony.

When Tesla released the video, Musk tweeted, “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot.”

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

When asked if the 2016 video showed the performance of the Tesla Autopilot system available in a production car at the time, Elluswamy said, “It does not.”

Shares of TSLA are up 6.81% in mid-day trading on Tuesday.