Tesla’s Autopilot is a prime example of overpromising and underdelivering, but there’s a new wrinkle in the feature’s history: A Tesla engineer is now says that a 2016 video showing the car’s ability to drive and park itself was staged.
Reuters is reporting that Ashok Elluswamy, an autopilot engineer at Tesla, alleged in a deposition that the video illustrating one of the company’s namesake cars driving and parking itself is a sham. According to a 2021 article in The New York Times, anonymous Tesla employees claimed that the route the car took in the video was already mapped, and the featured car crashed during filming.
The video—which was published in 2016 and still exists on Tesla’s website—shows a Tesla driving someone to a Tesla office park. The passenger exits the car, which then circles the parking lot before parallel parking between two of its automobile brethren. A disclaimer at the front of the video 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 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 in his testimony, as quoted by Reuters.
Elluswamy’s testimony is a part of a lawsuit waged by the family of software engineer Walter Huang, who was killed in a Tesla crash in 2018. Huang’s family sued Tesla, arguing that the Autopilot on Huang’s Tesla caused the accident. Elluswamy claimed that the video was not an accurate portrayal of a Tesla’s so-called self-driving capabilities at the time and Andrew McDevitt, the lawyer representing Huang’s family, told Reuters that it was “obviously misleading to feature that video without any disclaimer or asterisk.”
Tesla is not the only company to offer cars with driving assistance, but it is the company several newsworthy crashes made headlines involving the feature—so much so that the company is being named in several legal cases and investigations surrounding its advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot. Autopilot is so controversial that California lawmakers created a new law preventing Tesla from advertising its cars as fully self-driving until the vehicles actually are fully autonomous.