Uber fires self-driving car engineer over Waymo legal dispute

31 May 2017

Former Otto co-founder and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski (right). Image: Transport Topics/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another head is rolling over at Uber, where one of the leading engineers behind the company’s self-driving car technology has been let go.

Uber’s HR team has been called into action once again following the latest revelation that one of its senior and most highly regarded engineers has been let go, due to the ongoing legal battle between the company and Google’s Waymo.

The engineer in question, Anthony Levandowski, first made headlines last year as the founder of Otto, a self-driving vehicle start-up that, after only a few months, was purchased by Uber for $680m.

Future Human

At the time, Levandowski – a former Google employee – was considered one of the best in the business for developing autonomous vehicles, with Otto finding ways to bring the technology to the trucking business.

However, in February of this year, Google’s self-driving car division Waymo filed a lawsuit with Uber over its technology that it claimed Levandowski stole during his time at Google.

While the case is still ongoing, it seems as if the furore has left Uber in an awkward position, choosing to disassociate itself from Levandowski by firing him from the company.

Could be a witness against Uber

According to The New York Times, an email was sent to staff informing them of Levandowski’s departure, citing his lack of cooperation in the legal case.

“Over the last few months, Uber has provided significant evidence to the court to demonstrate that our self-driving technology has been built independently,” said Uber’s associate general counsel for employment and litigation, Angela L Padilla.

“We take our obligations under the court order very seriously, and so we have chosen to terminate his employment at Uber.”

The straw that broke Uber’s back appears to stem from Levandowski missing a deadline to hand over documents relating to the case.

Legal analysts said the decision to release him was expected by Uber. However, in the months to come, Levandowski could possibly appear in court as a witness against Uber.

Former Otto co-founder and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski (right). Image: Transport Topics/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic