Uber fires autonomous car researcher involved in lawsuit

Lynne Hanson
May 31, 2017

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in February by Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving auto unit, which claimed former manager Levandowski took a trove of technical data with him when he left to launch a competing venture that went on to become Otto and was later acquired by Uber. Uber put him in charge of its self-driving efforts, and made him a direct report to CEO Travis Kalanick. Levandowski's termination, which is effective immediately, is a result of his involvement in the lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, Google's self-driving auto division.

The engineer in question is Anthony Levandowski, best known to this point for forcing Uber to relocate its self-driving auto program after a freaky spat with the California DMV, and for his equally unusual behavior in the lawsuit between Uber and Waymo.

Levandowski was sacked "for cause", according to a copy of the termination letter obtained by the Washington Post, and he has 20 days to contest the decision if he so chooses. Levandowski's lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In September, a nervous-looking Levandowski presided over the the public debut of Uber's self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.

The company's letter to Levandowski states that he "represented and warranted" in his employment agreement that he has returned or destroyed all property and confidential information from any previous employer. "Footnote 9 of the Order specifically states that 'in complying with this order, Uber has no excuse under the Fifth Amendment to pull any punches as to Levandowski'". Uber has insisted for years that it needs to be first to the market with self-driving cars, or the company will be at risk. Uber wants to develop a fleet of self-driving cars so its service eventually won't have to rely on people to pick up passengers.

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Any admission by Levandowski that he possesses Waymo documents could embroil him in even deeper legal trouble.

Uber has denied any wrongdoing, but Levandowski has invoked his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. Levandowski is the key figure in an explosive lawsuit brought against Uber by Waymo, the driverless vehicle maker spun out from Google parent company Alphabet. Alsup ordered Uber to ensure its work on lidar remains off limits to Levandowski.

Levandowski missed a company deadline for assisting with an internal investigation related to the litigation, according to an Uber spokesperson who asked not to be named.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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