Anthony Levandowski, in charge of Uber's self-driving unit, will no longer continue assuming that role. The move comes amid trade-theft accusations thrown by Levandowski's former employer, Waymo.
Levandowski will remain at the company. However, he will no longer be involved with any work related to LiDAR, the technology that allows a car to autonomously navigate roads by mapping their surroundings.
Anthony Levandowski Steps Away From LiDAR
The news first broke via Business Insider, which obtained an email discussing the move. While Levandowski will not be part of Uber's work on LiDAR, he will still fulfill other responsibilities such as operations and safety.
In the email, Levandowski made it clear that he wants nothing to do with LiDAR-related work moving forward, telling employees to exclude him from meetings and email threads about LiDAR.
Eric Meyhofer will occupy Levandowski's vacated spot, helming Uber's Advanced Technologies unit, which oversees the company's autonomous and trucking fronts. Meyhofer has been part of Uber since 2015, and he has been working at the company's research center in Pittsburgh.
In the email, Levandowski encouraged employees to be proud that the company's autonomous tech "has been built independently, from the ground up." Of the decision to lose involvement in LiDAR, he says:
"With this move, I hope to keep the team focused on achieving the vision that brought us all here."
Google vs. Uber
The news about Levandowski's departure from one of his crucial duties is the latest development in the high-stakes legal saga between Google's Waymo unit and the ride-hailing company. Waymo sued Uber in February over allegations that it stole proprietary files, including LiDAR blueprints and design documents.
Levandowski formerly worked on Google's autonomous tech, but left in early 2016 to bootstrap his own self-driving truck startup, Otto. Uber shopped Otto eight months later for $680 million. Google alleges that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files, brought it to Uber, and copied the LiDAR technology Waymo developed.
When the U.S. Court of Appeals requested Uber to hand over a privilege log detailing Levandowski's legal setup with Uber, he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, saying that handing over the allegedly stolen documents will incriminate him. The court, however, denied his petition.
Uber is set to face a preliminary injunction hearing next week, and depending on the outcome, the company might halt its autonomous research altogether.
The battle represents the auto companies' aggressive attempts to dominate the increasingly developing autonomous industry, and for good reason: market analysts predict it could be worth tens of billions of dollars. Among the companies making inroads in this regard are Tesla, Apple, Intel, Uber, and of course, Google.
A Rocky Year For Uber
Uber's year has so far been abysmal, mired with string after string of controversies. The company, valued at $68 billion, has been hit by numerous setbacks, among them caused chiefly by public outrage. There was the #DeleteUber campaign, for instance, in which Uber users deleted the app in protest against the company's alleged exploitation of President Trump's immigration ban.
Troubles grew more intense when numerous reports of sexual abuse at the company started to break the surface, all contributing to paint a picture of Uber's toxic workplace culture. The company is still investigating sexual harassment issues at present.
As for the legal battle, expect due coverage when we find out more.