Judge’s order bars Uber engineer from Lidar work, demands return of stolen files

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Enlarge / Pilot models of the Uber self-driving car at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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A US federal judge has ordered Uber to bar its top self-driving car engineer from any work on lidar and to return stolen files to Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo.

Today’s order (PDF) by US District Judge William Alsup demands Uber do “whatever it can to ensure that its employees return 14,000-plus pilfered files to their rightful owner.” The files must be returned by May 31. The order was granted last week but was just made public in an unsealed document this morning.

Light Detection and Ranging; that’s the laser-powered system that lets self-driving cars “see” their surroundings. Today’s order shows the most detailed timeline yet of how Levandowski left Waymo, founded his own company, and sold it to Uber for $680 million.

In the summer of 2015, Levandowski told co-worker Pierre Yves Droz that he was interested in creating a new self-driving car startup and that he had already spoken to an Uber executive who would be interested in “buying the team responsible for Waymo’s LiDAR,” Alsup writes.

8,836,922 and 9,285,464, lidar-related patents that describe a system using a single, common lens to transmit and receive beams. Uber’s most recent lidar system, codenamed “Fuji,” doesn’t use a common-lens design. An earlier Uber model called “Spider” never evolved into a working prototype.

“Competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions,” said a Waymo spokesperson, reacting to today’s order via e-mail. “We welcome the order to prohibit Uber’s use of stolen documents containing trade secrets developed by Waymo through years of research, and to formally bar Mr Levandowski from working on the technology. The court has also granted Waymo expedited discovery and we will use this to further protect our work and hold Uber fully responsible for its misconduct.”

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling that Uber can continue building and utilizing all of its self-driving technology, including our innovation around LiDAR,” said an Uber spokesperson in an e-mailed statement. “We look forward to moving toward trial and continuing to demonstrate that our technology has been built independently from the ground up.”

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, during a closed-door hearing, Levandowski’s lawyer said his client would plead the Fifth to avoid testifying about documents that he may have.
  • On April 3, Google accused Levandowski of creating “competing side businesses,” even while he earned a reported $120 million from Google.
  • On May 3, the two companies argued over whether Uber should be hit with a court order barring it from working on self-driving cars.

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