Anthony Levandowski has lost his post as the head of Uber’s self-driving technologies amid ongoing allegations that he stole trade secrets from Waymo, his former employer, Business Insider is reporting.
Levandowski joined Uber last summer when the company acquired his driverless trucking startup, Otto. Before that, he worked at Waymo, the self-driving car project spun off by Google parent Alphabet. In February, Waymo filed a trade secrets lawsuit against Uber and Otto. Waymo has alleged that Levandowski stole 14,000 files, amounting to 9.7 gigabytes of “highly confidential” data before his January 2016 departure.
In an email obtained by Business Insider, Levandowski said he and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick “have decided that I will be recused from all LiDAR-related work and management at Uber, through the remainder of the Waymo litigation.” Lidar, or ”light radar,” is a key component of self-driving technology that essentially lets the cars see their surroundings. Just over two of the nine gigabytes of data that Waymo claims Levandowski stole are said to relate to lidar. An Uber spokesperson confirmed the email.
Eric Meyhofer, a member of Uber’s driverless car team in Pittsburgh, is replacing Levandowski as the head of the Advanced Technologies group, which oversees Uber’s autonomous vehicle efforts.
Levandowski, who has retained his own lawyers, has invoked the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination, in the lawsuit because of “potential for criminal action.” But earlier this week, a US appellate court ruled that Levandowski taking the Fifth couldn’t prevent Uber from turning over potentially incriminating documents.
Waymo has urged the court to bar Levandowski from any work related to Uber’s self-driving car program. Uber’s decision to have Levandowski step aside from any lidar work could be seen as a last-ditch attempt to appease the court and avoid the preliminary injunction Waymo has requested. A preliminary injunction could halt Uber’s driverless car progress indefinitely.
Read the full email obtained by Business Insider below:
I want to let you know that Travis and I have decided that I will be recused from all LiDAR-related work and management at Uber, through the remainder of the Waymo litigation. This change means that Eric Meyhofer will be the head of ATG, reporting to Travis, and I will report to Eric. My other responsibilities will not change.
As you know, I currently don’t provide input on detailed LiDAR design choices. But making this organizational change means I will have absolutely no oversight over or input into our LiDAR work. Going forward, please make sure not to include me in meetings or email threads related to LiDAR, or ask me for advice on the topic.
We all know the hard work that Eric, James and the LiDAR team have put into independently developing our technology over the past few years.
We should all be proud that our self-driving technology has been built independently, from the ground up. With this move, I hope to keep the team focused on achieving the vision that brought us all here.