Tesla sues former Autopilot manager for allegedly stealing data

Tesla is accusing Sterling Anderson of stealing data to benefit of Aurora, the startup he's launching with Chris Urmson, former CTO of Google's self-driving car project.

Tesla on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Sterling Anderson, a former program manager for Tesla's Autopilot team, charging that Anderson stole proprietary information from Tesla and tried to poach Tesla employees for his own startup.

The suit, filed in the Santa Clara County Superior Court, alleges that Anderson has partnered with Christopher Urmson, the recently-departed head of Google's self-driving car initiative, to launch a company called Aurora. The suit was also filed against Urmson and alleges the two men "sought an unfair advantage" in a hot automotive market.

Anderson, the suit says, attempted to "violate his contractual and other obligations to Tesla by attempting to recruit at least a dozen Tesla engineers, taking Tesla's confidential and proprietary information, and doctoring and destroying evidence in an effort to cover his tracks --all for the benefit of a competing venture he launched while still a Tesla employee."

Anderson joined Tesla as a senior program manager in 2014 and took on a program management role for the Autopilot team in November 2015. The suit alleges he downloaded "hundreds of gigabytes" of Tesla confidential and proprietary information to his personal hard drive and then sought to cover up his actions. It also alleges he made job offers to least a dozen Tesla engineers, in violation of his obligations to Tesla.

On January 3 of this year, the suit says, three engineers from the Autopilot group told Tesla that they were joining Aurora (though one changed his mind). Anderson was fired the next day. He continued to attempt to recruit Tesla employees with Urmson, the suit charges, in violation of his contract, which is in effect for 12 months after his termination.

In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Aurora wrote that Tesla's lawsuit was "meritless" and revealed "both a startling paranoia and an unhealthy fear of competition."

"This abuse of the legal system is a malicious attempt to stifle a competitor and destroy personal reputations," the statement said. "Aurora looks forward to disproving these false allegations in court and to building a successful self-driving business."

Urmson left Google in August 2016 but gave no indication at the time of what his next venture would be.

Meanwhile, Tesla recently announced that Chris Lattner, previously of Apple, will serve as Tesla's vice president of Autopilot Software.

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