Taxi startup Uber has lost another member of staff this week as it fired its head of self-driving technologies, Anthony Levandowski.
Levandowski is at the centre of the Uber-Waymo legal battle over autonomous driving tech, which began when Waymo filed a trade secrets lawsuit against the Silicon-Valley based startup.
Back in February, Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, filed the lawsuit against Uber and its autonomous trucking subsidiary, Otto. Waymo accused Uber of stealing confidential information about its sensor technology.
This is because Levandownski was one of Waymo’s engineers before he left the company in January 2016 to work for Otto, which was acquired a few months later by Uber. Levandowski allegedly downloaded confidential files about Waymo’s tech and stored them on an external hard drive. However, he isn’t the only one as Waymo has said other former employees stole trade secrets before moving on to work for Otto and Uber.
At the time, Uber told Verdict:
“We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”
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The startup has said it fired Levandowski after he failed to comply with a court order to hand over documents at the centre of the legal dispute. The letter was filed in federal court yesterday and said that Levandowski has 20 days to comply with the court orders.
What is notable is that Levandowski hasn’t denied that he took the documents from Waymo — he has simply asserted his fifth amendment right and refused to testify, something which has hurt Uber’s defense efforts.
Earlier this month, the case was recommended for investigation by federal prosecutors by the judge presiding over it, William Alsup. As well, the startup is already being investigated by the US government, after the justice department opened an inquiry into reports Uber was using a special tool to evade regulators and law enforcement officials around the country, something known as “greyballing”.
Despite the current legal battle, Uber seems to be moving on to other things. In April, it announced it wants to test a network of on-demand flying electric cars by 2020. It is working on the new fleet of vehicles, known as the Uber Elevate Network, with aviation companies including Brazilian aerospace conglomerate Embraer and American firm Bell Helicopter.