Embattled self-driving car division head Anthony Levandowski is stepping back from his role leading Uber's autonomous vehicle efforts pending the outcome of that court battle involving his former employer, Google/Alphabet, and some accusations about the theft of trade secrets. As the Associated Press is reporting, following an email announcement to coworkers on Thursday, Levandowski will be staying at Uber, but he'll allegedly be stepping back to a subordinate role in the division, under a former subordinate, Eric Meyhofer, who'll take over his job. Meyhofer is a robotics expert who has been based at Uber's Pittsburgh research center.
Levandowski helped found the self-driving car program at Alphabet, now called Waymo, before he launched another company on the side, Otto, the self-driving trucking company that was later acquired by Uber for $680 million.
Waymo and Alphabet have accused him of downloading 14,000 confidential files to a personal laptop before leaving the company, including blueprints for the LiDAR technology that is integral to autonomous vehicles.
Business Insider, which also obtained the email sent by Levandowski regarding the job change, reports that he added, "Please make sure not to include me in meetings or email threads related to LiDAR, or ask me for advice on the topic."
Most recently, Levandowski pleaded the Fifth in a hearing in late March, refusing either to testify or turn over the files that he is accused of stealing, but the judge suggested that Uber may have to force his hand by threatening to fire him.
In an early March hearing, Alphabet forensic security engineer Gary Brown testified that Levandowski's actions before leaving the company were relatively easy to track, and that he "downloaded 14,000 files from a Google repository that contain[ed] design files, schematics, and other confidential information pertaining to its self-driving car project."
Experts have suggested that Uber and Levandowski could face some extremely high fines should Alphabet prevail in this case. Lawyers for Levandowski said in the more recent hearing that he would not be testifying in order to avoid self-incrimination because there's "potential for criminal action" down the line.
Uber has said that its LiDAR technology is "fundamentally different" from Waymo's, and Levandowski's Thursday email said, "We should all be proud that our self-driving technology has been built independently, from the ground up."