Here’s the real story behind Tesla’s “Orchestrated” self-driving video
There are plenty of media reports about Tesla “staging” or “faking” a self-driving video in 2016 today following the release of a Tesla Autopilot executive’s testimony, but here’s the full story.
In 2016, Tesla announced that all of its cars going forward will be equipped with the necessary hardware to achieve full self-driving capability through future software updates.
Seven years later, Tesla has yet to deliver on that promise, but the company still promises to do so and releases software updates that bring those capabilities closer.
After the announcement in 2016, Tesla has released Video demonstration of its self-driving technology.
The video showed a Model X driving itself around the Bay Area for a few miles – navigating some stop signs and traffic lights before entering a Tesla parking lot.
Here is the full video:
That was seven years ago, so why are we talking about it now?
Today, a lot of media reports are making headlines about Tesla “faking” or “staging” the video.
All of these reports are based on testimony from Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla’s Autopilot program manager, as part of the discovery at CEO Elon Musk’s trial that shareholders made over allegations that he misled them.
In his testimony, Elluswamy confirmed that Tesla used 3D mapping on a predetermined route to create the video. He also said that Tesla made runs several times and that test drivers interfered on several occasions.
The engineer added:
“The intent of the video was not to accurately depict what was available to customers in 2016. Rather, it was to depict what could be included in the system.”
Elluswamy also confirmed that the Autopilot team put the video together as a “showcase of the system’s capabilities” at Musk’s request.
There is nothing really new here
We already knew Tesla had to do all of that to create video back in 2017.
In 2017, Tesla released a self-mode disengagement report with the California DMV and confirmed that it had driven 550 self-driving test miles in self-driving test vehicles with 168 disengagement events in 2016.
While the data is for the entirety of 2016, all miles were driven within the few weeks leading up to the demo video.
Tesla apparently didn’t have the ability to launch a self-driving system at that time because it was just beginning to design its own self-driving technology after moving away from Mobileye’s driver assistance system.
As we reported back in 2017, Tesla played a predetermined route multiple times so the system could do it all at once without disengaging from the video.
There is an argument that the video was indeed “staged” based on this, but the real contentious thing is that the video begins with Tesla saying this:
“The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He’s not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”
Some think the commentary is inaccurate, but the car actually drives itself in the video, which is unedited. It’s just that he can’t do that much. Tesla had to design custom software and maps for this, but the automaker didn’t claim otherwise.
I’m not sure why the media decided to act on these comments because they don’t add anything new that we didn’t know from 2017.
It’s certainly not a perfect video presentation, but I also don’t think you can make the point that Tesla lied or even was misleading about the video. It has been showing what it plans to achieve with its self-driving and that it can now do it with some dedicated software. The video showed the car navigating this road on its own.
And in fact, Tesla can now do that same route with an off-road vehicle equipped with the Full Self-Driving Beta.
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