Anthony Levandowski was once the main man of Google’s self-driving car project. Fast forward almost four years. Now, he has become Google’s number one enemy, also in what concerns the self-driving technology. In October last year, Levandowski presented a demo of Uber’s self-driving car project. He had spent almost nine years at Google, working for them and trying to perfect this technology. Also in October, he said in an interview that whatever he built at Uber was not based on anything taken from Google. Frankly, he stated that he did not steal anything from his former workplace.
However, that was not enough to convince Google and on Thursday, Waymo, the company under Alphabet Inc. which Google formed for its self-driving project, filed a lawsuit against Uber. Also, Levandowski is involved. They are accusing him and the company of stealing extremely valuable intellectual property from them and implementing it into their project.
The self-driving project scandal
Levandowski left Google in January 2016. According to Waymo, the days leading up to his resignation are the most suspicious ones. According to them, his web searches, his downloads and also the fact that he had access to an external drive, all those actions left some digital footprints behind. This latest lawsuit contributes greatly to the growing rivalry of the two companies, Google and Uber. They are enemies not only in what concerns autonomous vehicles but also in mapping and soon, in ride-hailing services. Long story short, with the recent issues Uber has been facing, they fear that Google might steal everything from them.
Levandowski is a serial entrepreneur who always had a soft spot for robotics and artificial intelligence. In 2001 he founded 510 Systems in order to further his research in the autonomous driving technology. He joined Google in 2007 and was in charge of their mapping project. Only in 2011, Google acquired his 510 Systems in a deal which was very secretive at the time. In 2012, 510 became the very essence of Google’s self-driving technology. Levandowski was part of the first autonomous vehicle test which the Government ran, along the Las Vegas strip.
Later, Google would detach their self-driving car project and name it Waymo. In January 2016, he decided to leave Google. However, the timing of his move is what got Google thinking. According to them, he was part of a meeting with Uber executives on January 14. A few days later, he decided to resign from Waymo without any notice whatsoever. He formed his startup called Otto on February 1st. This is why they started thinking that maybe he took some very important intellectual property from Waymo and transferred it to Uber in order to have a successful career there.
This last week has been horrible for Uber. They were accused of sexual harassment by a former employee, the culture of the company has been criticized and former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder was called to start an investigation at the company. Interestingly enough, Levandowski has often been compared with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in terms of their personalities.
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