Uber Fires Driverless-Car Engineer Nabbed From Waymo

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the engineer who had been leading the company’s driverless-car program until Google spinoff Waymo accused it and Levandowski of stealing its technology in a high-profile lawsuit.

The termination was confirmed by an Uber executive familiar with the matter in an email Tuesday.

Waymo claims Levandowski downloaded thousands of confidential files from its server before he resigned in January 2016, using them to set up a competing company called Otto that same month. Some of the files are related to Waymo’s highly secret LiDAR system – a laser-based scanning and mapping technology its driverless cars use to “see” their surroundings.

In August 2016 – just three months after Otto launched publicly – Uber acquired the company for $680 million, and tapped Levandowski to lead its autonomous car program. Waymo claims Levandowski met with Uber’s senior executives days before he resigned and that Uber knew it would be illegally acquiring Waymo’s trade secrets, but purchased the company anyway to fast-track its floundering autonomous car program.

Fearing criminal prosecution, Levandowski invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid testifying at his deposition and to prohibit Uber from turning over a due-diligence report that Uber had commissioned on Otto before acquiring it. Waymo says the report could help prove that Uber and Levandowski stole its trade secrets.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the case, denied Levandowski’s Fifth Amendment motion. According to the Uber executive, Levandowski has refused to cooperate with Uber’s internal investigation into the allegations, despite Alsup’s orders that he turn over evidence.

Earlier this month, Alsup barred Levandowski from working on Uber’s driverless-car technology.

Waymo sued Uber and Otto this past February over the theft but did not name Levandowski as a defendant. Instead, it took him to arbitration twice late last year for violating his employment agreements with Waymo.

Waymo could not be reached for comment on the termination Tuesday.

 

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