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Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski will be stepping back from his position as head of the company’s self-driving car project.
Levandowski is at the heart of a heated trade-secrets lawsuit that Google’s Waymo division filed against Uber in February. Google says Levandowski, an ex-Googler, illegally grabbed more than 14,000 files on his way out the door. Levandowski went on to create his own self-driving car startup, Otto, which Uber later bought for $680 million.
In an internal Uber e-mail, which was obtained and published by Business Insider, Levandowski said he’s being removed from all work related to Lidar, a key self-driving car technology which uses lasers to map objects in the physical world.
“I want to let you know that Travis [Kalanick] 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,” wrote Levandowski. He continued:
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.
The e-mail goes on to explain that the new head of Uber’s self-driving car division, internally called the Advanced Technologies Group or ATG, will be Eric Meyhofer. Levandowski will remain at Uber and report to Meyhofer, who will report to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
The full e-mail is published at Business Insider.
The move to distance Levandowski from Lidar comes as Uber faces an important court hearing next week. Waymo has asked for a court-ordered injunction that would prevent Levandowski from working on self-driving cars while the trade secret and patent infringement litigation moves ahead.
redacted motion (PDF) for an injunction, Waymo asks the court to stop anyone at Uber “from accessing, using, imitating, copying, disclosing, or making available to any person” the “Asserted Trade Secrets,” which include but are not limited to Lidar designs.
In that context, Levandowski’s decision to step down seems like a preventative move. At next Wednesday’s hearing, Uber lawyers would be able to tell the judge that there’s no need for a broad injunction, since Levandowski has stepped aside. That’s unlikely to satisfy Waymo, whose lawyers will surely ask for some court-ordered limits on Uber that reach beyond personnel changes.
More on Waymo v. Uber:
- On February 23, Google’s Waymo division filed a lawsuit claiming that Uber’s self-driving car chief, Anthony Levandowski, illegally downloaded 14,000 files when he worked at Google.
- On March 29, Levandowski’s lawyer said his client would plead the Fifth to avoid testifying about documents in the case.
- On April 3, Google said Levandowski created “competing side businesses,” even while he earned a reported $120 million from Google.
- On April 4, Levandowski filed a public motion invoking his 5th Amendment rights.
- On April 5, US District Judge William Alsup insisted that Uber search harder for the 14,000 allegedly stolen files.
- On April 6, Alsup said he would likely rule against Levandowski on the 5th Amendment issue and told him to prepare an appeal.
- On April 25, an appeals court ruled against Levandowski, upholding Alsup’s decision.
- On April 27, Uber asked the judge to move the case into arbitration.