The latest court filing by Uber in the self-driving technology case brought by Waymo has them thoroughly throwing former self-driving vehicle division head Anthony Levandowski under the bus. The filing suggests that Uber, or at least its former CEO Travis Kalanick, had knowledge that Levandowski possessed a trove of stolen plans and intellectual property belonging to his former employer, Alphabet/Waymo. As the Associated Press reports, Uber is now for the first time acknowledging that at least one disclosure occurred between Levandowski and Kalanick, in which Levandowski allegedly said that he had five disks worth of Waymo files back in March 2016, but they claim that Kalanick told Levandowski he didn't want them and that he couldn't not bring them with him when he came to work for Uber. [See update below.]
Alphabet's attorneys have previously argued that Kalanick and Levandowski hatched a plan to use the stolen plans and data to further Uber's self-driving vehicle efforts.
At the time, Kalanick had reached a deal to purchase Levandowski's self-driving trucking startup Otto, started while Levandowski was working for Google/Alphabet. The acquisition, worth $680 million, would later be completed in August 2016, and within six months, Waymo and parent company Alphabet would file the lawsuit we're talking about now, alleging that Levandowski downloaded some 14,000 proprietary files to a personal laptop before he left the company, and that Uber had used them in building their own cars.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup who told Uber they had to compel Levandowski to testify or else fire him last month, which they did ordered Uber to return the stolen files. And Uber has maintained all along that they developed their own self-driving cars, and specifically the LiDAR system that acts as the cars' 360-degree "eyes," and have not used any of Waymo's intellectual property.
Nonetheless, the companies are in a race to get their own self-driving cars onto city streets, a race that sped up when Uber flouted state regulators and began accepting passengers in their self-driving Volvos in San Francisco in December. In March, Google/Alphabet asked Judge Alsup to force Uber to cease operating its self-driving cars altogether until this legal battle is settled. It remains to be seen if the Justice Department will seek criminal charges against Levandowski.
So, the chess game of self-driving car dominance has registered one more decisive move, and meanwhile Wired posts this story about how Uber's self-driving car efforts, and its Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, are humming along just fine.
This lawsuit is just one of several major hurdles facing Uber this year following a significant amount of bloodshed last week in the wake of an internal investigation that revealed rampant sexual harassment and bad behavior among executives and employees there, culminating in Kalanick's departure.
But the New York Times now hears from some Uber employees that they want Kalanick back already, and 1000 of them signed an online petition to the company's board to bring Kalanick back in an active role following his forced resignation on Tuesday. Pal Ashton Kutcher also went on Howard Stern this week to defend Kalanick, saying, "I'm 100 percent certain there were mistakes made and he would cop to the fact that he made mistakes and did things that he maybe shouldn't have done. [But] I feel like we're in a society today that is so fast to judge people, and that we have to realize people make mistakes, and you have to let people learn from their mistakes."
Update: One week later, in a June 28 filing in federal court, Uber seems to be saying the opposite. They say, per CNet, "Prior to the filing of this lawsuit, no one at Uber knew that Levandowski had downloaded any Google proprietary information for any improper purpose or that he had deliberately taken any Google proprietary information with him when he left Google."