A former Uber engineer told Travis Kalanick: ‘We’ve got to start calling Elon on his s—‘

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  • Waymo, Google’s sister company focused on self-driving-car technology, claims in a lawsuit that Uber stole intellectual property and trade secrets when it acquired a startup founded by Anthony Levandowski.
  • Levandowski was the head of Waymo’s self-driving-tech team before joining Uber.
  • Levandowski slammed Tesla’s approach to self-driving tech in text messages to Travis Kalanick, Uber’s cofounder and former CEO. The texts were made public via a court filing.

A former Uber engineer slammed Tesla CEO Elon Musk in texts to Travis Kalanick, Uber’s cofounder and former CEO, a court filing shows.

The engineer, Anthony Levandowski, is at the heart of a lawsuit filed in February by Waymo, Google’s sister company focusing on self-driving-car technology. The suit claims that Levandowski, the former head of Waymo, stole intellectual property and trade secrets and used them for Uber’s autonomous-vehicle efforts.

Levandowski joined Uber in August 2016 when the company acquired his self-driving-truck startup, Otto. Uber fired Levandowski in May over his refusal to cooperate in the legal case.

A court filing, first reported by IEEE Spectrum’s Mark Harris on Tuesday, shows text exchanges between Levandowski and Kalanick while the two were planning the Otto acquisition.

An interesting nugget buried in the texts is a shot Levandowski took at Musk’s approach to self-driving-car technology.

“We’ve got to start calling Elon on his s—,” Levandowski wrote in a text in September. “I’m not on social media but let’s start ‘faketesla’ and start give physics lessons about stupid s— Elon says.”

Tesla did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment.

Levandowski’s example of “stupid s— Elon says” was the Tesla CEO’s reasoning behind his decision not to use lidar, a notoriously expensive sensor that uses lasers to help self-driving cars detect obstacles.

Musk has said Tesla does not use lidar for its Autopilot technology because lidar cannot penetrate rain, fog, dust, or snow. Instead, Tesla cars are equipped with a radar sensor, which uses radio waves.

Waymo, Ford, and General Motors are a few companies equipping their self-driving cars with radar and lidar.

Levandowski also accused Musk of lying about the number of crashes that had occurred while a Tesla car was operating with Autopilot activated.

“Tesla crash in January … implies Elon is lying about millions of miles without incident,” Levandowski wrote in another text in September. “We should have LDP on Tesla just to catch all the crashes that are going on.”

Levandowski appears to be referring to a fatal crash on January 20, 2016, in China that may have occurred while Autopilot was activated, The New York Times reported.

The court filing does not show any response from Kalanick.

Levandowski may have been sceptical of Musk’s approach to self-driving cars, but Kalanick reportedly asked Musk in 2016 to partner on an autonomous ride-hailing platform. Musk turned down the offer.

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