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Uber’s Autonomous Vehicle Head Stepping Aside During Legal Battle

April 28, 2017

Anthony Levandowski speaking about the future of self-driving trucks at last year's ATA Managment Conference & Exhibition. Photo: Evan Lockridge
Anthony Levandowski speaking about the future of self-driving trucks at last year's ATA Managment Conference & Exhibition. Photo: Evan Lockridge

Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group and founder of autonomous truck startup Otto, has stepped aside from that role in the midst of a legal battle with Waymo, according to a Business Insider news report

Earlier this year, Levandowski was accused by Waymo, his former employer, of stealing technologies related to a custom-built Lidar radar sensors and taking them to his new company Otto. Waymo is owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

In a detailed blog post, Waymo outlined the reasons it believed Levandowski took 9.7 gb of data, including blueprints, design files, and testing documentation from his former employer before starting Otto.

In an email to employees, Levandowski explained that he was removing himself from all duties related to Lidar (light detection and ranging) development at Uber during the litigation of Waymo’s lawsuit. He asked employees not to include him in any Lidar-related activities, meetings, or even email threads.  As a result of the change, he will no longer be the head of the Advanced Technologies Group at Uber.

It is assumed to be a defensive move by Uber to protect its Lidar technology, which is a key part of its self-driving cars and trucks. The case could have major ramifications for Uber and Levandowski depending on how the courts rule in the lawsuit. It could require Levandowski to leave all work on self-driving cars or prevent Uber from continuing its Lidar development, according to a TechCrunch post.

Otto was acquired by Uber in August of last year for $680 million. According to Business Insider, during the case, Waymo attempted to depose Levandowski, who was not directly named in the lawsuit. However,  he pled the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify on the ground that his testimony might be self-incriminating. 

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