The trial was set for January 2021, and Levandowski had contended he was innocent. “I was excited about fighting and winning,” he said Thursday evening. Ultimately, he concluded the case wasn’t worth fighting: “I’m happy to put this behind me.”The engineer has other troubles. Earlier this month he filed for bankruptcy after an arbitration panel ruled he owed Google $179 million, related to his departure from the company. (In a September 2019 hearing, a lawyer for Levandowski said the engineer had $72 million.)Although Waymo v. Uber focused largely on lidar, the laser scanning technology crucial to autonomy, the count to which Levandowski pleaded guilty involved a weekly update on Google’s self-driving project. The document included details on quarterly goals and weekly metrics, summaries of technical challenges, and notes on how the team had overcome past hurdles. In the plea, Levandowski admitted the document qualified as a trade secret, and that he intended to use it to benefit himself and Uber. By pleading guilty, Levandowski waived his right to a trial and to appeal his conviction. He also admitted to downloading some 14,000 files from a Google server and transferring them to his personal laptop, along with a variety of other files.
Want the latest news on self-driving cars in your inbox? Sign up here !
Levandowski, who turned 40 earlier this week, has been a key player in the self-driving world since his early 20s, when he entered the 2004 Darpa Grand Challenge with an autonomous motorcycle. He helped found Google’s effort in 2009, but was a divisive force on the team. Some found him a brilliantly motivating, outside the box thinker, others a rule-breaking jerk. By 2015 he had been sidelined, having lost a power struggle to his teammate Chris Urmson. Levandowski was left to lead the program’s lidar effort.
The WIRED Guide to Self-Driving Cars
How a chaotic skunkworks race in the desert launched what's poised to be a runaway global industry.Frustrated with his position and Google’s failure to launch a self-driving product after seven years of work, Levandowski was glad to go to Uber, whose then-CEO Travis Kalanick viewed autonomy as a must-have technology for its ride-hail network. After Kalanick acquired Otto, he put Levandowski in charge of the company’s self-driving program. But when Waymo filed its lawsuit and Levandowski invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, Kalanick fired him. In December 2018, Levandowski announced he had founded a new self-driving truck company called Pronto that would focus on computer vision and shun lidar, which he now deemed a “crutch.” When he was indicted on criminal charges, he left the company.