Was Tesla Autopilot video faked? Ashok Elluswamy comments and staged full self driving footage claim explained

Head of Autopilot reveals promotional video was staged and didn’t show real-world performance

A Tesla video claiming to show the company’s self driving technology in action was faked, according to a senior software engineer.

The 2016 video, which is still archived on Tesla’s US website, claims to show a Model X using full self driving hardware to complete a journey with no driver input, including stopping at a red traffic light, moving away at a green light and parking itself. However, testimony from the firm’s director of Autopilot software Ashok Elluswamy, reveals that the system did not have that capability when the footage was recorded.

The video was promoted at the time by Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, who tweeted: “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot.”. The introduction to the footage states: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”

In court testimony revealed by the Reuters news agency, Elluswamy, who was a senior software engineer at the time, said: “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.”

He revealed that the route had been 3D mapped in advance and preprogrammed into the vehicle, rather than the car using dynamic route planning. He also said that the human driver had to intervene on trial runs and that the car crashed into a fence while trying to self park.

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

Tesla markets various levels of driver assistance which can control throttle, braking and steering, using the Autopilot and Full Self Driving names but includes a disclaimer on its website that these “do not make the vehicle autonomous” and tells drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times.

Elluswamy’s testimony was given as part of a lawsuit against Tesla by the family of a man killed when his Model X crashed while Autopilot was engaged.

Tesla says that its Autopilot and full self driving technology doesn’t off autonomous driving (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Apple engineer Walter Huang died in 2018 when his car collided with a central barrier on California’s Highway 101 near Mountain View. The lawyer for his family claims that Huang had complained previously that when using Autopilot his car would swerve towards the same section of barrier.

Andrew McDevitt, who is representing Huang’s wife, told Reuters it was “obviously misleading to feature that video without any disclaimer or asterisk.”

In 2021 the US Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into Tesla’s claims that its cars can drive themselves, following a number of fatal crashes where Autopilot was thought to be engaged.

Tesla has been approached for comment.