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Tesla video promoting self-driving was staged, engineer testifies

The video, which was released in October 2016 and remains archived on Tesla’s website, was promoted on Twitter by CEO Elon Musk as evidence the “Tesla drives itself.”

A 2016 video that Tesla used to promote its self-driving technology was staged to show capabilities like stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that the system did not have, according to testimony by a senior engineer.

The video, which remains archived on Tesla’s website, was released in October 2016 and promoted on Twitter by Chief Executive Elon Musk as evidence that “Tesla drives itself.”

But the Model X was not driving itself with technology Tesla had deployed, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla, said in the transcript of a July deposition taken as evidence in a lawsuit against Tesla for a 2018 fatal crash involving a former Apple engineer.

The previously unreported testimony by Elluswamy represents the first time a Tesla employee has confirmed and detailed how the video was produced.

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

Elluswamy said Tesla’s Autopilot team set out to engineer and record a “demonstration of the system’s capabilities” at the request of Musk.

Elluswamy, Musk and Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. However, the company has warned drivers that they must keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicles while using Autopilot.

The Tesla technology is designed to assist with steering, braking, speed and lane changes but its features “do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the company says on its website.

To create the video, the Tesla used 3D mapping on a predetermined route from a house in Menlo Park, California, to Tesla’s then-headquarters in Palo Alto, he said.  Drivers intervened to take control in test runs, he said. When trying to show the Model X could park itself with no driver, a test car crashed into a fence in Tesla’s parking lot, he said.

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