In the fall of 2016, Tesla announced that its cars were now all capable of self-driving. The manufacturer then added cameras around its vehicles, which should be enough to achieve this goal. As a demonstration, this video was published: a Model X that leaves the garage by itself, picks up a person who should only be there for legal reasons and who never touches the steering wheel, drives to the office, leaves it in front of the doors and ends up parking alone.
More than six years after this video was published, reality is still far from that promise. Sure, the beta version of Tesla’s self-driving software has made huge strides in the US, but even so, drivers need to intervene regularly and be very vigilant at all times. Faced with this discrepancy between promises and reality, several lawsuits have been filed in the United States, including one that was filed by the family of an autopilot victim after an accident that occurred in 2018. .
It was during hearings related to the trial that Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla’s current director in charge of Autopilot, testified that the 2016 video was in fact a scene that in no way reflected the car’s real capabilities. In order to be able to drive this Model X without a driver actively driving, the manufacturer created an extremely accurate 3D map of the route between a house in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, where Tesla was then headquartered. Contrary to what the video indicated at the beginning, the driver was in fact forced to intervene during filming and the car fell into the bushes during tests for the final sequence in which it parks alone.
Even more embarrassing for Tesla, Ashok Elluswamy acknowledged that “the purpose of the video was not to accurately show what was available to customers in 2016. It was to show what was possible to build with the system. “. A statement reported by Reuters that he had access to the report of the hearing and that it is in total contradiction with the opening card. It could convince the courts that there really was false advertising at the time, and perhaps put the manufacturer in trouble, especially with customers who are increasingly dissatisfied with having paid for promises that are never kept.
To accompany these testimonials, Bloomberg got his hands on emails that would prove that Elon Musk was directly in charge of creating this video. A first message sent – at two in the morning – ten days before the announcement asked everyone on the autopilot team to make the demo their top priority. From the outset, the CEO would have recognized that it was a demonstration of future capabilities and not current ones, which made it possible to deceive a little, “coding” the behavior of the car depending on the route to be taken.
Future updates, pushed remotely across Tesla’s fleet, were expected to replace this temporary code with the production version. In that same email, Elon Musk insists on this point as reported by Bloomberg : the goal was to present Tesla’s future capabilities, this will be its message. A few days later, however, the tone would have changed. In another email shared by the site, he judges that the video looks very fake, because there are many cuts in editing. The aim is to get closer to a credible demonstration and, moreover, it would be he who would have asked to add the text at the beginning, however contrary to his first instructions.
When posting the video, Elon Musk posted a tweet that also leaves no doubt. This video is not intended to be a demonstration of future skills. His message is in the present tense and he explicitly states that the car can drive without any human interaction, which was wrong.
Tesla drives itself (no human intervention) through urban streets to highways and streets, then finds a parking spot https://t.co/V2T7KGMBo
—Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 20, 2016
This new information confirms information published at the end of 2021 by New York Times. The daily then interviewed former Tesla employees who worked on the Autopilot project and they had already questioned the video and directly implicated Elon Musk. It would have been him, in particular, who would have opted for the “Tesla Vision”, a system based exclusively on cameras to achieve autonomous driving. A gamble that the American manufacturer is almost alone in making, its competitors having multiple sensors, radar and LiDAR in mind.
Elon Musk would have pushed against all odds the vision bet on Tesla
Elon Musk has also repeated over the years that the 3D maps used by other players, including Google’s Waymo, were a bad idea because they were too difficult to generalize to the entire world and required constant updates. Tesla’s solution, based on cameras and artificial intelligence to better replicate human capabilities, would therefore be superior, he said, and the only option for achieving the goal of fully autonomous driving.
Tesla fires his neurons for his long-term vision
Only now we know that the 2016 demo was based on these famous 3D maps and six years later, the cars on the market that don’t have them still can’t do the same…