Uber fires self-driving car chief at center of court case

Uber Technologies Inc. has fired its top self-driving vehicle engineer, Anthony Levandowski, the former Google Inc. employee who is at the heart of the Waymo Inc. lawsuit that accuses Uber of using stolen technology.

Waymo has alleged that Anthony Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents containing trade secrets before he founded a startup that was purchased by Uber.

Meanwhile, Alsup also has referred the case to the U.S. Attorney for a possible criminal investigation.

Uber on Tuesday confirmed Anthony Levandowski was terminated after refusing to cooperate with the company's investigation into the allegedly stolen documents.

Uber employees found out that Levandowski was sacked through an internal email sent Tuesday, according to an Uber executive familiar with the matter. But Levandowski, asserting his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, has not publicly denied taking the files or otherwise commented on the case.

Levandowski at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center on September 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Levandowski, a top engineer on self-driving technology, has turned into a liability for Uber in court. When Levandowski continued to refuse to hand over evidence, Uber followed through with its threat to fire him. In a statement on Tuesday, his lawyers argued that a person can not be fired for invoking one's Fifth Amendment rights.

Two years ago, Uber began developing self-driving cars on its own.

Now Uber is cutting ties with Mr. Levandowski after being stymied in its efforts to block Alphabet's lawsuit and the case moves toward an October trial. The company is testing autonomous cars with real passengers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. The company cited his failure to comply with a judge's request that he turn over thousands of documents that he is accused of stealing from Google's parent company, where he had worked as a senior engineer in driverless cars.

"It is an act by the judicial branch of our federal government compelling an individual to choose between preserving his livelihood and preserving his constitutional rights", Levandowski's lawyers wrote.

Under the order, Levandowski was barred from being involved at Uber with anything to do with LiDAR, an object-sensing technology used to help self-driving cars "see", which is at the heart of the suit.

In a statement on Tuesday, Uber said that Eric Meyhofer, who took charge of autonomous auto research when Levandowski stepped aside, will continue to lead the work with Levandowski's subordinates now reporting to Meyhofer. Alsup ordered Uber to ensure its work on lidar remains off limits to Levandowski.

  • Anthony Vega