WTF?! Remember the video Tesla released in 2016 that showed off the Autopilot driver-assist system, including its ability to stop at a red traffic light and move away once it turned green? According to Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla's director of Autopilot software, the video was staged.
In a recent deposition for a lawsuit against Tesla filed by the family of Wei "Walter" Huang, who died in 2018 when his Model X crashed into a highway barrier while autopilot was engaged, Elluswamy said the video's intent was "not to accurately portray what was available for customers in 2016. It was to portray what was possible to build into the system."
The video starts with a tagline that reads, "The person in the driver's seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself."
The clip shows the Tesla Model X stopping at junctions and obeying traffic lights, even though Elluswamy admitted that Autopilot at the time had "no traffic-light-handling capability." He also said the demo was "specific to some predetermined route" rather than using data from the vehicle's cameras and sensors. "It was using additional premapped information to drive," he said.
The video was created using 3D mapping on the predetermined route from a house in Menlo Park, California, to Palo Alto. Elluswamy said drivers intervened to take control in test runs, and when trying to demonstrate the car's self-parking abilities, it crashed into a fence in Tesla's parking lot.
Elluswamy said the video was made after Tesla boss Elon Musk asked the Autopilot team to design a "demonstration of the system's capabilities." Musk later promoted the video in a tweet, boasting that "Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot."
Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot https://t.co/V2T7KGMPBo— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 20, 2016
The New York Times reported in 2021 that the Tesla used a premapped route in the video, and a car had crashed during the shoot.
Andrew McDevitt, who represents Huang's wife, told Reuters the video was "obviously misleading to feature that video without any disclaimer or asterisk."
After Huang's Tesla crashed on Highway 101 in Mountain View, California, in March 2018, the auto manufacturer said that Huang was responsible as he kept his hands off the wheel despite the vehicle's repeated warnings to retake control. However, the National Transportation Safety Board said Huang had repeatedly complained to friends and family about the Tesla often swerving at that specific crash barrier.
Tesla is facing several lawsuits related to its Autopilot software. There was more controversy last year when it announced the phasing out of ultrasonic sensors from its vehicles as part of the switch to Tesla Vision, its camera-based Autopilot system, having previously removed the radar systems.