The United States (US) Justice Department on Tuesday (27 August) charged Anthony Levandowski, widely regarded as a pioneer of self-driving car technology, on 33 counts of trade-secret theft from Google,Wall Street Journal reported.
Levandowski was one of the founders of the self-driving project of Google's parent company Alphabet Inc. (now called Waymo). He has been accused of stealing technology and taking it to Uber.
Working as a leader in Google's autonomous vehicle program, Levandowski led the engineering team tasked with developing lidar, a light-detection system similar to radar used for detecting objects.
Levandowski left Waymo in January 2016. He co-founded Otto, an autonomous trucking company which was acquired by Uber for $680 million.
Waymo sued Uber in 2017 over claims that it conspired to steal inside secrets, particularly the lidar, or light detection and ranging systems, used to guide autonomous vehicles.
After being locked in a bitter battle over allegations that Uber had inappropriately used Waymo’s trade secrets to develop its own autonomous vehicles (driverless cars), the two companies finally reached an agreement in February 2018.
As per the settlement, Uber had promised that it will not use any of Waymo’s technology in its autonomous vehicles and also hand over 0.34 per cent of its stake to the Google company. Uber also agreed to pay Waymo $245 million though the later had demanded $1.85 billion in damages.
The settlement came days after the trial started at a federal court in San Francisco, which included the testimony of Uber founder and former chief executive officer (CEO) Travis Kalanick, under whom Levandowski had reached an agreement.
Uber, then under its newly appointed CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, was seeking to clean up remnants of a series of scandals and controversies heading in to its initial public offering (IPO) in 2019. Uber also fired Levandowski for allegedly failing to cooperate with investigators in the trade-secrets case.
As per the federal chargesheet, Levandowski downloaded from Google “numerous engineering, manufacturing, and business files” related to lidar and self-driving car technology, and then used them in his future ventures.
Levandowski's lawyers rubbished the allegations as a “rehash” of claims “already discredited”. While acknowledging that he downloaded Google files, they claim that he did so as an authorised employee.
A serial entrepreneur, Levandowski also founded a company called Pronto, which is working to develop driver-assisted technology for long-haul trucking.
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