Google’s self-driving car company has accused one of its former star engineers of stealing crucial technology by downloading a cache of data to his laptop before quitting and ultimately bringing it to rival Uber.
Anthony Levandowski, the Uber employee at the center of the lawsuit, is apparently rebutting the allegations with a simple explanation: He needed the data so that he could work at home.
According to a profile of the case in Bloomberg, Levandowski told his staff that Uber’s Lidar technology – the laser sensors that self-driving cars rely on to navigate the roads – is “clean.” He downloaded files related to the tech while at Google in order to work from home, he explained during an internal Uber meeting following the lawsuit, according to the report.
Waymo’s lawsuit alleges that Levandowski, who worked for Waymo (the self-driving car unit owned by Google-parent company Alphabet), downloaded 9.7 gigabytes worth of files related to Waymo’s self-driving technology to his company laptop. He later used those files to develop lidar technology at his startup called Otto, Waymo alleges. Otto was acquired by Uber last year and Levandowski is now in charge of the Uber’s self-driving efforts.
“Our side of the story”
Waymo’s lawsuit says Levandowski downloaded the files in December of 2015, a few weeks before he left the company in January 2016. He also copied the files to an external storage device, Waymo’s lawsuit says.
“We will have a chance to tell our side of the story in upcoming filings and look forward to that opportunity,” an Uber spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement.
Levandowski has not commented publicly on the matter and Uber has previously called Waymo’s accusations“a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.”
On Thursday, Uber’s lawyers told a federal judge that the company intends to seek to move the dispute to arbitration, according to Reuters.
A federal judge said this week that Uber has until April 7 to file a legal response to Waymo’s lawsuit. It’s unclear if Uber will use Levandowski’s “work-from-home” defense in its official response. Last week, Waymo asked a judge to freeze Uber’s use of self-driving technology until the lawsuit is resolved.
A Waymo spokesperson declined to comment.