Travis Kalanick appeared in court for Uber's legal battle with Waymo, making his first public remarks since he was fired

  • Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick testified on Tuesday in the Waymo vs. Uber trial.
  • Waymo pressed the former exec about the importance of self-driving technology to Uber.
  • It claims that Uber stole confidential trade secrets from Waymo relating to the tech.

SAN FRANCISCO – Travis Kalanick, founder and former CEO of Uber, began his testimony on Tuesday in day two of the ongoing high-profile Uber-Waymo trial. The testimony was devoid of explosive revelations – but underscored how important Uber viewed self-driving car technology to its future under his tenure.

Kalanick, who stepped down from his role as CEO in June 2017, is a key witness for Waymo, which is looking to prove that Uber stole trade secrets and was prepared to “cheat” in order to get ahead in the development of self-driving cars. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, began its existence as Google’s self-driving car unit before getting spun out.

Waymo’s early questioning focused on Kalanick’s remarks to the press about the important of autonomous technology to Uber’s future. The intention is to build a case that Uber was prepared to do whatever it took in order to maintain its lead in the ride-hailing space.

Wearing a dark suit and tie, and with his father in the audience, Kalanick agreed that he believed self-driving vehicles will be safer to ride and cheaper to operate than human-driven vehicles – and that Uber’s future as a leader in ride-hailing depends on being a leader in the tech.

Uber, in turn, has argued that Waymo is motivated by fear of losing talent, and disputes that the “trade secrets” Waymo is looking to protect are not, in fact, trade secrets. Waymo is seeking damages from Uber, as well as a permanent injunction blocking it from using the tech.

Anthony Levandowski, the star self-driving car engineer the case hinges on, left Google to set up a self-driving truck business Otto before joining Uber – bringing with him a treasure trove of confidential Google data, Waymo alleges. Kalanick confirmed that he met with Levandowski, and that the two discussed the possibility of Uber acquiring a Levandowski-led company that didn’t yet exist – which would later become Otto.

“I wanted to hire Anthony [Levandowski] and he wanted to start a company so I tried to come up with a situation where he could feel like he started a company and I could feel like I hired him,” Kalanick said.

Kalanick’s colourful codenames and slang phrases made frequent appearances during his testimony. A meeting with Levandowski was a “jam session”; the importance of laser technology to autonomous vehicles was “laser sauce”; the plan to acquire Otto was referred to as “Project $”.

Confronted with cryptic notes from an Uber employee that Kalanick wanted a Shakespearean “pound of flesh” in a following a meeting with Anthony Levandowski, Kalanick did not deny he said it: “I mean, I don’t know specifically, it’s a term I use from time to time.”

Kalanick’s spent a little under an hour on the stand, drinking his way through multiple tiny bottles of water, before his testimony was cut short by the end of the trial for the day, at 1 p.m. He will return to the stand on Wednesday morning at 7.30 a.m. to answer further questions from Waymo, as well as cross-examination from Uber’s legal team.

His testimony on Tuesday was largely free of fireworks, and Waymo cannot discuss his explosive departure from Uber following months of scandals – but it remains to be seen what Wednesday will bring.

Read more about Day 1 of the trial here.

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