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Tesla video promoting self-driving was staged, engineer testifies

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Tesla video promoting self-driving was staged, engineer testifies
GLOBALTIMESPAKISTAN

 A 2016 video that Tesla (TSLA.O) 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 (AAPL.O) engineer.

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

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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.

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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.

“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,” Elluswamy said, according to a transcript of his testimony seen by Reuters.

When Tesla released the video, Musk tweeted, “Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot.”

Tesla faces lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny over its driver assistance systems.

The U.S. Department of Justice began a criminal investigation into Tesla’s claims that its electric vehicles can drive themselves in 2021, after a number of crashes, some of them fatal, involving Autopilot, Reuters has reported.

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The New York Times reported in 2021 that Tesla engineers had created the 2016 video to promote Autopilot without disclosing that the route had been mapped in advance or that a car had crashed in trying to complete the shoot, citing anonymous sources.

When asked if the 2016 video showed the performance of the Tesla Autopilot system available in a production car at the time, Elluswamy said, “It does not.”

Elluswamy was deposed in a lawsuit against Tesla over a 2018 crash in Mountain View, California, that killed Apple engineer Walter Huang.

Andrew McDevitt, the lawyer who represents Huang’s wife and who questioned Elluswamy’s in July, told Reuters it was “obviously misleading to feature that video without any disclaimer or asterisk.”

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded in 2020 that Huang’s fatal crash was likely caused by his distraction and the limitations of Autopilot. It said Tesla’s “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement” had contributed to the crash.

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Elluswamy said drivers could “fool the system,” making a Tesla system believe that they were paying attention based on feedback from the steering wheel when they were not. But he said he saw no safety issue with Autopilot if drivers were paying attention.

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Amazon axes free grocery delivery on Prime orders under $150

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Amazon axes free grocery delivery on Prime orders under $150

Amazon is axing free grocery delivery for Prime members on orders less than $150.

Customers who get their groceries delivered from Amazon Fresh — and pay less than $150 — will be charged between $3.95 and $9.95, depending on the order size, the company said in an email to Prime members Friday.

The new policy starts February 28.

“We will continue to offer convenient two-hour delivery windows for all orders, and customers in some areas will be able to select a longer, six-hour delivery window for a reduced fee,” Amazon said in the email.

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Launched in 2005, Prime has more than 200 million members worldwide who pay $139 a year, or $14.99 a month, for faster shipping and other perks, such as free delivery and returns.

Currently, the company offers members free grocery deliveries on orders above $35, with the exception of New York, where it’s $50.

Under the new policy, the company said delivery charges will be $3.95 for orders between $100-$150, $6.95 for orders of $50 to $100, and $9.95 for orders under $50. Amazon Fresh deliveries over $150 will remain free.

“We’re introducing a service fee on some Amazon Fresh delivery orders to help keep prices low in our online and physical grocery stores as we better cover grocery delivery costs and continue to enable offering a consistent, fast, and high-quality delivery experience,” Amazon spokesperson Lara Hendrickson said in a prepared statement.

The company has dozens of Amazon Fresh stores across the U.S. and has opened some abroad. Amazon has also owned Whole Foods since 2017.

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The decision to impose new fees comes as the company attempts to trim costs amid a hazy economic environment. In the past few months, it has axed unprofitable areas of its business and paused hiring among its corporate workforce. It said this month that it will lay off 18,000 workers.

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US SEC probes Elon Musk’s role in Tesla self-driving claims

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US SEC probes Elon Musk's role in Tesla self-driving claims

The US securities regulator is investigating Elon Musk s role in shaping EV maker Tesla s (TSLA.O) self-driving claims, Bloomberg News reported on Friday, citing a person with knowledge of the matter.

The review is part of an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) probe of the company s statements about its Autopilot driver-assistance system, the report added.

SEC officials are considering whether Musk may have inappropriately made forward-looking statements, the report said, without specifying which specific statements or activities by Musk attracted the regulator s attention.

Tesla Chief Executive Musk did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, while the SEC declined to comment.

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Separately, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Jan. 9 said the regulatory agency is “working really fast” on the Tesla Autopilot investigation it opened in August 2021.

Musk is also under trial for allegedly misleading investors with his 2018 tweet saying “funding secured” for taking Tesla private.

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Twitter research group stall complicates compliance with new EU law

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Twitter research group stall complicates compliance with new EU lawTwitter research group stall complicates compliance with new EU law

The stalling of a Twitter program that was critical for outside researchers studying disinformation campaigns throws into question the company s strategy to comply with upcoming regulation in Europe, former employees and experts told Reuters.

The European Union s new Digital Services Act (DSA), one of the world s strictest regulations on internet platforms, has sent tech companies scrambling to meet its requirements on having measures in place against illegal content and explaining the steps they take on content moderation, before the law comes into full effect in early 2024.

Twitter signed a voluntary agreement in June with the EU related to the DSA committing to “empowering the research community” through means including sharing datasets about disinformation with researchers. The EU s goal with the law is to create a safer internet for users and have a mechanism to hold companies accountable.

According to Yoel Roth, Twitter s former head of trust and safety, the Twitter Moderation Research Consortium was a key part of Twitter s plan to do that, since it compiled data on state-backed manipulation of the platform and provided that to researchers. “Twitter was uniquely well-positioned,” he said.

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Nearly all of the 10 to 15 employees who worked on the consortium have left the company since Elon Musk s takeover in October, according to Roth, who resigned in November, and three other former employees who were involved with the program.

The EU law would require platforms with over 45 million EU users to respond to EU-vetted researcher proposals.

Failure to comply with the DSA once it comes into effect could lead to fines of up to 6% of global revenue or even a ban from operating in the EU, according to the European Commission website.
Reuters was unable to determine if Twitter has made alternative plans to comply with the DSA.

In an email, Twitter s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, said: “We intend to fully comply with the DSA, have many employees working on DSA compliance internally and have communicated our intent to comply to (EU Commissioner Thierry) Breton and his team.”

She did not comment on detailed questions about the status of the consortium, how many employees were working on it, or how Twitter planned to comply with the DSA.

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Breton has met at least twice with Musk to discuss Twitter s intent to comply with the upcoming law. In November, Breton said Twitter had “huge work ahead” because the company will have to “tackle disinformation with resolve” and significantly reinforce content moderation. read more In May, Musk appeared in a video with Breton expressing agreement with the Digital Services Act. Breton s spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
Across the company, at least 5,000 staff (about two thirds of the total before the takeover) have either quit or been fired as Musk overhauls Twitter, hitting the trust and safety and public policy teams particularly hard. read more

“I just don t see how the absolutely skeletal staff … will be able to readily comply (with the DSA),” said Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics at George Washington University.

THE WORK OF THE CONSORTIUM

The research consortium was formed in response to backlash against Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to the company s website, its aim is “to increase transparency around Twitter’s content moderation policies and enforcement decisions.”

Twitter prohibits people, organizations or governments from manipulating conversation on the service, such as using multiple or fake accounts to make content appear more popular.

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Early last year, Twitter launched a pilot version of the consortium to disclose examples of manipulation of the platform to some outside researchers.

As Twitter investigated and took down accounts that were suspected of foreign interference, it released data on that to the researchers to help them study the misinformation strategies and where they originated.

In September, Twitter opened an application process to expand the consortium and had accepted about 50 researchers by the time of Musk s acquisition on Oct. 27, two of the former employees said.

Twitter had been preparing to disclose at least a dozen new datasets to researchers before then, the former employees said.

Of the three former Twitter employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, one spoke with current employees recently and was told they do not have the personnel or bandwidth to continue working on the consortium.

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Five outside researchers told Reuters that without a program like the research consortium, it will be more difficult to study how governments use Twitter to interfere with elections or political events globally.

Two of those who are members of the consortium said Twitter has not sent a memo to close the program formally and previously-released data remain available to them, but they had not received data from it in at least two months.

The research consortium was an important tool to make the internet safer, according to two U.S. lawmakers who introduced a bill last year that would require social media platforms to provide data access to academic researchers. Their Digital Services Oversight and Safety Act has not been voted on.

Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts and Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois also wrote an open letter to Twitter on Nov. 18 asking whether Twitter would maintain the consortium, following layoffs that halved the staff.

Asked about the consortium by Reuters this month, Trahan said failure to maintain the program would be “a massive step back.”

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The Stanford Internet Observatory, a consortium member that studies internet risks, said it has not received any communication from the program since mid-November and no longer has a point of contact at Twitter.

The Stanford team has published at least three papers using data from the consortium, including one about Twitter accounts that promoted India’s military activities in Kashmir, and one on U.S.-linked attempts to spread pro-Western narratives abroad.

If the research consortium is eliminated, “we will be returning to the 2017 era of limited shared communication about malicious state actor activity,” said Renée DiResta, research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory.

Cazadores de Fake News, a Venezuela-based consortium member that fact checks online news, told Reuters the research program “seems to have fallen into a hiatus,” and the organization has not heard from Twitter since Musk s acquisition.

“But we hope that it will resurface at some point, as it is a very valuable initiative,” said spokesperson Adrian Gonzalez. 

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