Uber fires head of its self-driving car program

Now there’s really no one in the driver’s seat for Uber’s driverless cars.

The ride-sharing company confirmed Tuesday that it has terminated Anthony Levandowski, who had headed the company’s self-driving program since August.

Levandowski was the nexus in a trade-secret suit filed by Google since the executive once led the self-driving initiatives at both tech companies.

Levandowski was sued in March by his former employer — Waymo, the self-driving unit spun out of Google — on grounds he stole “9.7 GB of highly confidential data,” according to court papers filed in San Francisco federal court.

While Waymo alleges the stolen trade secrets have allowed Uber to unfairly catch up in the race to turn driverless cars into a trillion-dollar industry, Uber initially stood by its tech star.
In March, after Levandowski asserted his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid incriminating himself and turning over evidence, Uber told the court it couldn’t force the star engineer to testify.

But in a letter dated May 26, made public on Tuesday, Uber terminated Levandowski “for cause.”

The letter cites his failure to provide “full cooperation” in the Waymo case and in an internal investigation.

It also claims that, unless Levandowski can “cure” his deficiencies in 20 days, he jeopardizes his stock award — a signing bonus believed to include 5.3 million in stock options that, should Uber go public, could be worth hundreds of millions.

Levandowski’s firing extends misfortunes befalling Uber, including executive departures, sexual-harassment complaints and the tragic boating death over the weekend of CEO Travis Kalanick’s mom.

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