This story made the rounds in the news: a Tesla car "killed" an autonomous robot in Las Vegas in January 2019.

There is some controversy about whether the incident was a real accident or a promotional stunt.

Some viewers of the video have pointed out that the Tesla does not appear to actually strike the robot, while others have pointed out that there appears to be a rope attached to the robot.

Was there a collision shown in the video? Was it just a publicity stunt?

  • 3
    While it's not the sort of reliably sourced evidence I'd put in an answer on this site, the Tesla driver, one "George Caldera", was quoted as saying "I thought the flivver would come round, but it bumped straightly into the it!" I think a certain Russian PR firm needs to fire its fake quote writer.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Feb 14, 2019 at 9:22

1 Answer 1


It's a PR stunt, and a very bad one at that. There are several debunkings out there, e.g. from ElecTrek, or (the best IMHO) from DÆrik @ YouTube.

Strongest points made by DÆrik:

  • The press release by PromoBot claims that the driver has "put the car in self-driving mode". Such a mode does not exist in available Tesla models.

  • The Tesla "autopilot" would not work as shown in the "evidence" video, as the street has no markings (and Tesla "autopilot" requires them to actually engage).

  • Any self-driving car that behaved like in the video would be very faulty, as it's driving on the wrong side of the street.

  • The robot just gently topples over. Had it been hit by the car, it would have jerked abruptly, and more into the direction of movement of the car, instead of tipping over to the side slowly. Several observers of the video footage state they can see a rope attached to the robot, being used to topple the robot (with no actual collision taking place).

A different angle to debunk this is the whole premise. From the Promobot press release:

At 7pm the Promobot's engineers transported robots to the Vegas's Congress Hall to prepare their booth at the CES-2019. All the robots were moving in a line. But one of them missed its way and drove to the roadway of the street parking lot.

  • How could a robot that is being transported by engineers to a booth in the hall "miss its line" and end up in the parking lot? That would require a self-driving AI exceeding that of a Tesla car, and a failure of that mechanism of epic proportions. Plus, engineers being more than half asleep to miss the fact that one of their machines "wanders off".

As a result, the robot suffered serious damage. Parts of the body, the mechanisms of the arms, the movement platform and a head are destroyed. Now the robot is not able to take part in the exhibition and most likely there is no way to restore it.

Doesn't look that bad to me. (Promobot video)

  • 1
    "Parts of the body, the mechanisms of the arms, the movement platform and a head are destroyed." Not at T-101 for sure, more like "Calvin builds a robot". Humanity is still safe. Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 22:20

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