Uber Demotes Self-driving Chief Amid Waymo Lawsuit

Uber Demotes Self-driving Chief Amid Waymo Lawsuit
j_nnesk_sser / Pixabay

Uber’s self-driving car program head Anthony Levandowski has stepped down as the Waymo-Uber legal battle heats up, according to an email obtained by Business Insider. Levandowski, who is at the center of the lawsuit, is exercising his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self- incrimination, against the advice of Uber’s lawyers.

Uber, Waymo, lawsuit and Levandowski: what’s going on?

Levandowski is not leaving Uber, but he will not work on autonomous vehicle technologies for the company.

“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,” Levandowski said in the email, referring to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

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In February, Waymo alleged that Levandowski, a former employee of Waymo, had stolen proprietary information and the designs of Waymo’s LIDAR and the circuit board. Waymo sued Uber, apparently after finding out about the theft after a mistakenly cc’d email from a LIDAR component vendor.

LIDAR or “light detection and ranging” is one of the key technologies used in both Waymo’s and Uber’s self-driving cars. The technology allows vehicles to “see” their surroundings and detect traffic, bicyclists, pedestrians and various other hurdles on the road. While Waymo is accusing Uber of the theft, the latter says that its LIDAR technology is fundamentally different from Waymo’s.

For now, Waymo is seeking an injunction against Uber’s self-driving car efforts. If the judge accepts Waymo’s plea and grants the injunction, Uber would be left with no option but to halt its self-driving car pilot, which has been already put to the test in Pennsylvania, Arizona and California. This would be a big blow to the ride-sharing service, which has been hiring aggressively to build its autonomous vehicle program.

Waymo in better control of self-driving

The past few months have not been good for Uber. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is leading an internal investigation against Uber’s internal practices after a former employee alleged that her manager approached her with inappropriate demands and that the company did not take any action against him. Also rival Lyft has been on the rise since Uber got involved in these issues. Campaigns like #DeleteUber also help Lyft gain more users.

Waymo, on the other hand, enjoys a big lead over others in the self-driving space. Earlier this week, the company said it was adding 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet, increasing the total number to around 600. The majority of those minivans will run in the Phoenix area, where Waymo has been running a test program for select families and is looking forward to opening up the program to hundreds more for a free public trial.

It has been learned that Waymo’s program is not just bigger than that of Uber but also outperforms on technology, notes Huffington Post. According to documents filed with the State of California, Waymo’s human drivers took control of the automated system once every 5,000 miles in 2016, whereas Uber drivers had to take control once every mile as of March 8.

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