Uber Fires Self-Driving Vehicle Engineer Anthony Levandowski amid Legal Battle with Google
Uber has fired the head of its self-driving vehicle unit, Anthony Levandowski, amid the continuing fallout from the engineer’s alleged theft of trade secrets from his former employer, Google.
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Levandowski came to Uber after a long stint at Google, where he shepherded that company’s own self-driving car project before it was spun off into a standalone business called Waymo.
Earlier this year, Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber, alleging that Levandowski stole some 14,000 documents from Waymo, and that the information became the technological basis for Uber’s self-driving cars.
Levandowski had already stepped away from running Uber’s self-driving car project, with the company moving him to an operations role in late April.
Uber has denied the allegations against Levandowski, and in the meantime has been trying to prove in court that it developed its own self-driving technology independently.
Levandowski’s refusal to cooperate with those efforts was the reason for his firing, according to the report. Uber has not responded to a request for comment.
Uber brought Levandowski on board in August 2016 when it acquired Otto, a self-driving long-haul trucking company that he started after leaving Google with employees from Tesla, Apple, and Cruise Automation.
Levandowski was immediately tapped to run all of Uber’s self-driving efforts, which began in Pittsburgh in 2014 after Uber poached dozens of researchers and engineers from Carnegie Mellon University. It was reportedly Levandowski’s decision to rapidly expand those efforts into San Francisco at the end of 2016.
In other news, Uber quietly dropped the name for its driverless truck unit, “Otto.”
The change was made last month in the wake of a trademark infringement dispute with a similarly named Canadian company that markets its own robotic vehicle technology.
Uber consolidated Otto’s activities under its Advanced Technologies Group, or Uber ATG, in April and “retired the Otto name,” it said without elaborating.
The change came shortly after the dismissal of a trademark infringement suit brought by Kitchener, Ontario-based Otto Motors, a unit of Clearpath Robotics that makes autonomous vehicles for warehouses and industrial facilities.
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