Uber Demotes Man at Center of Waymo Self-Driving Car Lawsuit


Anthony Levandowski, who is at the center of Alphabet Inc.’s trade secrets lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc., stepped down from his post overseeing self-driving car technology. Uber said he’ll take a lesser role on the team and won’t be involved in decisions relating to lidar technology, which is the subject of the suit.
Levandowski explained the changes in a staff email obtained by Bloomberg. He said he decided, along with Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick, that he should recuse himself from working on lidar, the laser technology used to help self-driving cars see the road.
“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,” Levandowski wrote in the email. “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.” Business Insider reported the change in leadership earlier Thursday.
Waymo, a sister company of Google working on autonomous vehicles, alleged that Levandowki stole its lidar designs when he was employed there and used them to build the technology that underpins Uber’s self-driving cars. Levandowski joined Uber last year after the ride-hailing company acquired his autonomous trucking startup Otto.
Before the legal drama, Kalanick and Levandowski had developed a close bond. Kalanick had described Levandowski as a “brother from another mother.” The company has hired aggressively to build up its autonomous vehicle program for the past few years. After the acquisition of Otto last year, Kalanick put Levandowski at the top of the effort. The 40-year-old CEO has called the race to market self-driving technology an existential threat to Uber’s business.
Uber has faced a tumultuous few months. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting an internal investigation of the company’s cultural practices after a former employee alleged that her manager had propositioned her for sex and that the company’s human resources department hadn’t taken action. Uber’s chief U.S. competitor, Lyft Inc., is on the rise, catching a tailwind from the #DeleteUber movement. Uber has said its performance last quarter was in line with expectations.
Levandowski’s decision to assert his Fifth Amendment right to avoid testifying has complicated Uber’s legal defense. Alphabet has accused Levandowski of stealing 14,000 files while he worked there. Alphabet claims Levandowski used the files to help Uber replicate Waymo’s lidar technology. Uber has argued that another team at Uber developed the company’s lidar.
Eric Meyhofer, who helped start Carnegie Robotics before joining Uber, is taking over as head of the company’s Advanced Technologies Group, which develops autonomous vehicles, Levandowski wrote in his email to staff. Meyhoffer attended Carnegie Mellon and then worked at its National Robotics Engineer Center for a decade.
Uber Rival Gett Said to Seek $700 Million for Expansion
The ruckus at Uber Technologies Inc. is leading rival ride-hailing services to take advantage.
Gett Inc., a Volkswagen AG-backed app used for ordering taxis, is looking to raise up to $700 million to fuel expansion, according to people familiar with the plans. The Tel Aviv-based company has hired Wells Fargo & Co. and Credit Suisse to help bring in new funds, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public.
Gett is targeting a valuation of as much as $2 billion, depending on the final level of investment, said one of the people. Last year the app also targeted a valuation of $2 billion before receiving $300 million from Volkswagen in May. However, one investor said in June Gett had yet to break the $1 billion mark. Gett, Credit Suisse and Wells Fargo declined to comment.
The new funding efforts coincide with Gett’s acquisition Wednesday of the New York-based ride-hailing service Juno for $200 million. Gett operates in around 100 cities globally, including New York, London and Moscow. Other investors include billionaire Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries and Swedish fund manager Vostok Nafta Investment Ltd.
Rivals of Uber have been trying to fill their coffers as the San Francisco-based startup grapples with executive exits, claims of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and a lawsuit against its self-driving car technology. Lyft Inc. raised $600 million in April, while China’s Didi Chuxing is near an agreement to raise at least $5 billion.