BARCELONA, Spain — In an on-stage interview on Monday, the head of Uber’s self-driving car unit Anthony Levandowski spoke optimistically about the future of autonomous vehicles and the transportation company’s efforts the field.
Noticeably absent from the interview: Any mention of the multiple scandals currently rocking Uber — including a lawsuit accusing Anthony Levandowski of stealing technology, to Uber’s bruising tales of “systemic” workplace sexism, and a report claiming the company misled the public about the cause of a self-driving vehicle running a red light.
Levandowski, also CEO of the self-driving truck company Otto that Uber acquired in 2016, was at Mobile World Congress in Spain, a major technology industry conference focusing on the mobile sector. As part of a broader segment on connected vehicles, he was interviewed in front of an audience by Michael O’Hara, the chief marketing officer for industry body GSMA.
The interview came just days after news broke that Levandowski is being accused by former employer Google of stealing data and trade secrets after he left to establish Otto, a claim that Uber says is “baseless.” Waymo, Google’s self-driving car unit, is suing Uber and Otto over the claims, and this seems to be Levandowski’s first public appearance since.
Before that, a bombshell blog post from a former employee claimed she was sexually harassed and experienced sexism during her time at Uber — sparking further reports about Uber’s bruising workplace culture.
And The New York Times reported on February 24 that Uber misled the public over the cause of one of its self-driving cars skipping a red light. Uber had claimed the incident was a case of human error, but sources alleged to the Times that the vehicle was actually in self-driving mode when it happened.
But if the hundreds of conference attendees were hoping to hear Anthony Levandowski address any of those issues, they came away disappointed. The interview and his answers were a straightforward affair, focusing on issues like the safety of self-driving cars (“trucks represent 1% of cars, 5% of miles, 90% of fatalities”), Levandowski’s motivations for founding Otto, public education about self-driving cars, and Uber’s mission (“reliable transportation everywhere for everyone”).
The interview was peppered with videos about Otto’s landmark autonomous truck delivery of beer and depictions of what the vehicles “see.”
Uber is on the defensive following the controversies, and cancelled all its media interviews at Mobile World Congress after news of the Google lawsuit became public (as The Telegraph’s James Titcomb noted on Twitter).
Reached for comment about the lawsuit, an Uber spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement: “We are incredibly proud of the progress that our team has made. We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court. In the meantime, we will continue our hard work to bring self-driving benefits to the world.”
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