Tesla engineer testifies 2016 self-driving video was staged

A 2016 video which purported to show the self-driving capabilities of a Tesla car was staged, a senior engineer testified.

Ashok Elluswamy, the company’s director of autopilot software, testified in July that the video showed the Model X performing actions it was not programmed to perform, like stopping at red lights and accelerating at green lights, according to a deposition reported by Reuters on Tuesday.

The video’s tagline read “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared the video in 2016 on Twitter, which he now owns, as proof “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot.”

Elluswamy’s testimony is part of a 2018 lawsuit against the company after Walter Huang, a former Apple engineer, died in a Tesla crash in Mountain View, Calif. Huang’s vehicle was on autopilot while he played a mobile game, the National Transportation Safety Board found.

Elluswamy said the autopilot team made the video — a “demonstration of the system’s capabilities” — at the behest of Musk.

The Tesla website says the company’s technology assists drivers with different functions but it does “not make the vehicle autonomous” and that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel at all times. A number of crashes have been documented involving Tesla’s software. The Department of Justice is also probing the company.

According to Elluswamy’s testimony, the video showed a Tesla driving on a pre-determined route from a house in Menlo Park, Calif., to the company’s then-headquarters in Palo Alto. He said the video did not show what the production model available could do.

During rehearsals, drivers intervened multiple times, including once when an attempt to parallel park ended with the car crashing into a fence in the company’s parking lot. Anonymous sources told the New York Times in 2021 that the car crashed during the shoot.

“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.