Why the Uber engineer accused of stealing Waymo secrets stepped back from self-driving cars

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And the plot thickens.

The Uber engineer accused of stealing trade secrets from Google's Waymo has stepped back from working on a key technology of self-driving cars. While this could be seen as a way to appease Google and the courts, it is certainly raising some eyebrows. But what exactly is going on, what does Uber hope to achieve?

In IT Blogwatch, we go for a (rollercoaster) ride.

So what is going on? Mike Isaac has some background:

Anthony Levandowski, the Uber executive accused of stealing trade secrets from Google, is stepping aside from leading some of the company’s work on self-driving vehicles...Levandowski...has recused himself from working on Uber’s LiDAR technology...a key hardware component in the operation of any autonomous vehicle. Mr. Levandowski disclosed the change on Thursday in an internal memo.

And why is this important? Dara Kerr is in the know:

Waymo accuses [Levandowski] of stealing 14,000 "highly confidential" files on self-driving car technology. Levandowski used to work at Waymo...but quit to form his own self-driving truck startup. Uber bought that startup, Otto, last year...Uber says its LiDAR technology is "fundamentally different" from Waymo's.

That is a lot of files. What was in them? Ryan Grenoble has the details:

Central to the lawsuit is the design of a circuit board for...LiDAR...Waymo claims Levandowski brought that circuit board design with him to Uber, giving the company a critical -- and illegal -- advantage. Uber has dismissed the claim.

So why is Levandowski recusing himself? And what will this achieve? Biz Carson fills in some blanks:

Levandowski...will no longer be working on work related to LiDAR...Levandowski will remain at Uber and will retain his other responsibilities.
While Uber has repeated that Levandowski's work on LiDAR has been minimal...his recusal from his position as head of the department is a defensive move for Uber to remove him from any involvement the technology at the heart of the matter.

Why is Anthony Levandowski's history with Waymo, anyway? Charlie Osborne has some pertinent information:

Levandowski is...believed to have been a key player...in Waymo's success in developing the technology. While working in Google's Street View maps unit in 2008, the engineer convinced the tech giant to take a stab at self-driving technology as part of the Google X moonshot project department.
Success followed with Google's driverless cars eventually being tested on Californian streets...Now, Waymo has clocked millions of autonomous driving miles on U.S. roads and has recently opened the fleet to the public for further tests.

Got it. But his recusal raises some eyebrows. Has anything else happened with regards to the lawsuit that seemed similarly interesting? Alison Griswold tells us about one other thing:

Levandowski...has invoked the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination, in the lawsuit because of “potential for criminal action.” But...a U.S. appellate court ruled that Levandowski taking the Fifth couldn’t prevent Uber from turning over potentially incriminating documents.
Uber’s decision to have Levandowski step aside from...LiDAR work could be seen as a last-ditch attempt to appease the court and avoid [a] preliminary injunction Waymo has requested. A preliminary injunction could halt Uber’s driverless car progress indefinitely.

So how did the email make its way out into the world? Rhett Jones has a theory:

One specific line in the email really stands out: “As you know, I currently don’t provide input on detailed LiDAR design choices”...Levandowski and Uber have tried to downplay his involvement with the LiDAR unit. A casual mention that he isn’t really part of the day-to-day anyway raises suspicion that the email was leaked intentionally.

But that is just speculation. Anything else important? Jordan 'Jaws' Novet has one thing to add:

Throwing him under the self-driving truck, eh.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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