The embattled leader of Uber’s self-driving car program stepped out of that role on Thursday, the latest development in a trade secret dispute between two of the industry’s leading players.
Anthony Levandowski has emerged as a central figure in the legal battle between Uber and Waymo, Google’s driverless car initiative. A former Google employee, Levandowski is accused of stealing 14,000 documents that contained technology designs before leaving the company last year to start his own self-driving venture. That company, called Otto, was acquired by Uber in a matter of months.
Waymo filed suit against Uber claiming the ride-sharing company’s technology is based, at least in part, on the stolen information. The company is also seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent Uber from using the disputed technology until the case is resolved. A hearing on that injunction is scheduled for May 3 in San Francisco.
Earlier this month, Judge William Alsup threatened to bar Levandowski from working on the company’s autonomous cars if he and Uber did not more fully investigate Waymo’s accusations.
Levandowski will be replaced by Eric Meyhofer, according to a staff email. Meyhofer oversees development of the company’s light detection and ranging, or LiDAR, technology, which serves as the vehicle’s eyes on the road.
Levandowski will stay with Uber and maintain his other responsibilities. In the email, he sought to distance himself from the company’s LiDAR development, stating that he does not currently “provide input on detailed LiDAR design choices.”
“We should all be proud that our self-driving technology has been built independently, from the ground up,” Levandowski wrote in the email.
Attorneys for Levandowski did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An Uber spokeswoman confirmed the authenticity of the email, which was first obtained by Business Insider, but did not comment further.
Here is the email in full.
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.
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