Elon Musk’s company is at risk of being accused of fraud when it comes to promoting self-driving technology, with testimony left by a former Tesla engineer showing that the experience demonstrated to users in a promotional video released in 2016 was largely faked.
In reality, the Tesla Model S car equipped with an early version of the autonomous driving software knocked down at least one fence and did not show a convincing enough level of safety for the production team to allow autonomous navigation of the route selected for the commercial.
The US Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation into Tesla’s claims that its electric vehicles can drive themselves in 2021, after a series of accidents, some of them fatal, involving Autopilot, Reuters reported.
According to testimony submitted for the record by one of the Tesla engineers who participated in the experiment, “The intent of the video was not to accurately demonstrate the autonomous driving technology available to Tesla customers in 2016. The production for advertising purposes was meant to depict what the technology will ultimately enable.”
The problem is that in distributing that video, Elon Musk tweeted, “Tesla drives itself (no human intervention) on urban streets, from freeway to streets, then finds a parking spot.” Unfortunately, the numerous traffic accidents caused by Tesla drivers who have become overconfident in the vehicle’s autonomous driving capabilities prove otherwise. Tesla is currently facing lawsuits and the prospect of much stricter regulatory scrutiny over its driver assistance systems, threatening the very future of autonomous driving technologies that Tesla’s chief perhaps promoted too early.
The New York Times reported in 2021 that the company’s engineers created the 2016 video to promote Autopilot without disclosing that the route had been mapped in advance or that one of the cars had suffered a software crash before they completed filming.