Anthony Levandowski, the head of Uber’s self-driving group, is stepping aside in face of trade-theft accusations from his former employer, Waymo.
In an email obtained by Business Insider, Levandowski said he will no longer be working on work related to Lidar, the specialised radar sensors that autonomous vehicles rely on to map their surroundings and to navigate on their own.
Levandowski will remain at Uber and will retain his other responsibilities overseeing things like operations and safety.
“Please make sure not to include me in meetings or email threads related to LiDAR, or ask me for advice on the topic,” he instructed employees in his email.
In his place, Eric Meyhofer is being named head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies group, which oversees its self-driving car and trucking divisions. Meyhofer is a former robotics expert from Carnegie Mellon University who joined Uber in 2015. He has been based at Uber’s Pittsburgh research center.
Levandowski’s move is the latest twist in the high-profile battle between Uber and Google, along with other tech and automobile companies, to dominate the nascent self-driving car industry, a market that many analysts believe could be worth tens of billions of dollars.
Uber confirmed that Levandowski is no longer head of its Advanced Technologies Group, but declined to comment further.
Read Levandowski’s full email to his employees below:
I want to let you know that Travis and I have decided that I will be recused from all LiDAR-related work and management at Uber, through the remainder of the Waymo litigation. This change means that Eric Meyhofer will be the head of ATG, reporting to Travis, and I will report to Eric. My other responsibilities will not change.
As you know, I currently don’t provide input on detailed LiDAR design choices. But making this organizational change means I will have absolutely no oversight over or input into our LiDAR work. Going forward, please make sure not to include me in meetings or email threads related to LiDAR, or ask me for advice on the topic.
We all know the hard work that Eric, James and the LiDAR team have put into independently developing our technology over the past few years.
We should all be proud that our self-driving technology has been built independently, from the ground up. With this move, I hope to keep the team focused on achieving the vision that brought us all here.
Levandowski’s recusal of any work involving Lidar is a direct result of a lawsuit brought by Waymo, the self-driving car spin-out from Google. Levandowski formerly worked at Google on its self-driving cars, but left in January 2016 to create his own self-driving truck startup, called Otto. Eight months later, Uber acquired Otto and Levandowski for $US680 million.
Waymo now accuses Levandowski of downloading 14,000 files and bringing them to Uber in order to copy Lidar technology that Waymo developed. In February, Waymo sued Uber for intellectual property theft and patent infringement.
Although Levandowski was not named directly in the lawsuit, he has been a central figure of the litigation. When Waymo sought to depose Levandowski, he took the fifth amendment to avoid self-incrimination in any potential criminal actions. As a result, he has refused to turn over any of his files.
While Uber has repeated that Levandowski’s work on Lidar has been minimal at best, his recusal from his position as head of the department is a defensive move for Uber to remove him from any involvement the technology at the heart of the matter. The ride-hailing giant faces a preliminary injunction hearing next week that could put a halt to Uber’s autonomous vehicle research.