Uber Fires Ex-Google Engineer In Driverless Car War

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick left and Anthony Levandowski co-founder of Otto pose for

Uber has followed through on threats to fire a star autonomous-car researcher whose hiring touched off a bitter legal fight with Waymo, the former self-driving vehicle arm of Google. Waymo sued Uber in February, alleging that the ride-hail company was using the stolen documents to advance its lidar technology, and the case between the two Silicon Valley firms is set to go to trial in October.

Uber had been pressuring Levandowski to comply with an internal investigation of the matter, according to a company spokesperson.

Uber employees found out that Levandowski was sacked through an internal email sent Tuesday, according to an Uber executive familiar with the matter. Levandowski, however, has plead the Fifth Amendment to protect himself against self-incrimination and hired his own criminal attorneys to represent him. His lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Uber said in a letter to Levandowski filed in federal court on Tuesday that it was firing him because he had not complied with a court order to hand over the documents.

In documents posted Tuesday, Levandowski's lawyers said Alsup's order "has thus placed Mr. Levandowski on the horns of an unconstitutional dilemma: either he must waive his Fifth Amendment rights and provide the information and materials specified by the order or face immediate firing". Levandowski was awarded $250m in Uber stock as part of the deal, according to documents revealed in court. The company is testing autonomous cars with real passengers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

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Waymo's lawsuit contends that Levandowski in December 2015 downloaded files from a highly confidential design server to a laptop and took the data with him to the startup. The U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment on any possible investigation. 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.

His silence has not won him sympathy from U.S. District Judge William Alsup, the judge overseeing the case, who earlier this month said Waymo has "one of the strongest records I've ever seen" showing that Levandowski took the files.

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.

Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto, headed Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking.

Meyhofer will continue to lead the team, an Uber spokeswoman said via email.

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