According to testimony from a senior engineer acquired by Reuters, a 2016 video Tesla used to suggest one of its vehicles was driving itself actually featured drivers taking control of the vehicle, in the latest blow to self-driving claims that have left the electric car firm in legal challenges.
The video, which is still available on Tesla’s website, was produced in October 2016 and pushed on Twitter by Tesla CEO Elon Musk as proof that Tesla drives itself.
However, the Model X was not driving itself using Tesla technology, according to Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla’s head of Autopilot software, in a transcript of a July deposition taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla for a 2018 fatal collision involving a former Apple worker. Elluswamy’s previously unreported statement is the first time a Tesla employee has acknowledged and discussed how the video was created.
“The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.” says the tagline of the video.
According to Elluswamy, Tesla’s Autopilot team set out to design and record a demonstration of the system’s capabilities at Musk’s request.
The Tesla technology is intended to help with steering, braking, speed, and lane changes, but it does not make the car autonomous, according to the company’s website. Tesla employed 3D mapping on a preset path from a residence in Menlo Park, California, to Tesla’s then-headquarters in Palo Alto to produce the video, he claimed.
He said that during test runs, drivers interfered to take control. A test vehicle slammed into a fence in Tesla’s parking area while attempting to demonstrate the Model X’s ability to park itself without a driver, he claimed.
“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 evidence reported by Reuters.
Musk tweeted after Tesla uploaded the video, “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot.”
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