Uber sacks self-driving car engineer accused of stealing Waymo secrets

Anthony Levandowski has been fired after refusing to hand over allegedly stolen documents to the US courts.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Uber has fired the engineer at the heart of a trade secret dispute with Google's Waymo after he failed to comply with court demands.

On Tuesday, the ride-hailing service revealed that Anthony Levandowski, a prominent engineer in the self-driving vehicle space, is no longer employed at the company.

As reported by Reuters, Levandowski failed to comply with a court demand to hand over 14,000 documents which were allegedly downloaded and stolen when the engineer moved from Google's Waymo self-driving unit to Uber -- the latter of which hoping that the engineer could lead its own research in autonomous vehicle research and development.

Levandowski left Google in 2016, setting up his own company, 280 Systems, which later became Otto and was snapped up by Uber for $680 million, including $250 million in the firm's stock.

Instead of pushing Uber's self-driving cars to new heights, however, Levandowski became embroiled at the heart of a lawsuit brought against Uber by Waymo, which said the engineer made off with over 14,000 confidential files containing trade secrets before he left.

The allegedly stolen data included circuit board blueprints and information concerning the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system which is a key component in self-driving car sensor and mapping technologies.

Waymo alleges that Google's intellectual property has made its way into Uber's own LiDAR technology.

Uber replaced the engineer as the head of the autonomous vehicle research team with robotics specialist Eric Meyhofer in April as the case continued, but now, the decision to fire him has been made.

In a letter (.PDF) sent to Levandowski and filed in federal court on Tuesday, Uber general counsel Salle Yoo said the firm had taken the decision to terminate him after he "failed to comply" with court demands for the files to be returned.

In addition, Levandowski allegedly failed to cooperate with Uber's internal investigation.

The engineer has 20 days to comply with these demands; however, considering Levandowski cited his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in court after refusing to hand over the files, it is unlikely he will cede to such demands.

See also: Uber plans to rule the skies by 2020

Uber says that Meyhofer will continue to lead the team.

In an email to employees, as reported by the New York Times, Uber associate general counsel for employment and litigation Angela Padilla said that Uber has provided "significant" evidence to the court to show that "self-driving technology has been built independently."

"Over that same period, Uber has urged Anthony to fully cooperate in helping the court get to the facts and ultimately helping to prove our case," Padilla added.

It is not just self-driving transport that Uber is exploring. Earlier this month, the company admitted to using artificial intelligence to jack up prices on some routes based on what algorithms suggest passengers are willing to pay.

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