Anthony Levandowski has invoked the fifth amendment to protect him from inadvertently blurting something out that could be used to lay the foundations of a new case against him. And he is exercising it copiously, as seen in a Waymo filing against Uber. However, Waymo’s lawyers are getting down to the minute details of LiDAR, in an attempt to get him to confess.
In an April hearing, Levandowski’s most common answer to questions hurtled his way was as follows:
On the advice and direction of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer. And I assert the rights guaranteed to me under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United State.
So basically, I won’t answer, only couched more respectfully. Considering that the questions sent his way included those that asked him to accept that he had stolen technologies from Waymo, that was probably the best answer, apart from an outright denial.
Anthony Levandowski was formerly an employee at Google’s self-driving car unit Waymo. However, he later left the company and started off his own venture, Otto. The self-driving truck startup was later acquired by Uber and that is when things started to get murky. Waymo now claims that Uber acquired Otto for the purpose of gaining access to Waymo’s LiDAR technologies which were, allegedly stolen by Levandowski when he left the company. The Google subsidiary has filed a lawsuit against Uber and the case continues.
Following the case, Levandowski invoked the fifth amendment, so as to prevent any other information which could implicate him from coming to the surface.
Meanwhile, Waymo wants Levandowski taken off Uber’s self-driving car division. It claims that he has stolen thousands of documents and s using the knowledge in them to kick start Uber’s project — in particular, the case revolves around the LiDAR technology that is used to detect obstacles along the path, among other things.
As per a filing by Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven:
This is an exceptional case. It calls for exceptional relief. To this day, Levandowski remains heavily involved in Uber’s LiDAR development. Uber should be enjoined from continuing to use Levandowski in its driverless car program and from continuing to misappropriate and infringe Waymo’s intellectual property.
Uber currently has two different LiDAR technologies. One of them is named as Fuji and is the company’s main tech. The other one is called Spider and wasn’t mentioned in the court. While Waymo has been crying foul and has been claiming that Uber did it on purpose so as to hide facts from the court, the cab aggregator says that it did this only because Spider isn’t even a full fledged technology yet.
As per TechCrunch, the questions directed at Levandowski focused upon the design of the Printed circuit boards, or PCBs. This included questions regarding the positioning and angle of diodes on the circuit boards. As an electrical engineer myself, I can confirm to the importance of PCBs in any electronic system. Indeed, they could be termed as the single most important component and may well be the toughest to design.
A Waymo lawyer asked Levandowski:
You used the confidential information you learned at Google to derive the diode spacing shown on the board? Uber would not have been able to have developed the spacing on the Fuji board shown on Exhibit 25, without reference to the 14,000 files you downloaded in December 2015; correct?
Well, these lawyers certainly appear to be well acquainted with electronics. however, Uber has refuted their claims as totally baseless. Speaking about the spacing and angle of diodes, Uber said:
Mr. Levandowski did not provide the beam spacing or angles for Spider, but instead asked Mr. Boehmke [an engineer hired by Uber from Carnegie Mellon], as the customer, to provide Uber’s desired beam parameters, which were ultimately used as starting requirements for Spider.
Similarly, there are questions raised regarding Uber’s use fiber laser technology. Waymo claims to have been able to cut down the very substantial costs by as much as 90 percent — and it says that Uber copied its stuff. However, Uber has been shrugging off Waymo’s claims, stating that what it claims to be a secret is common knowledge in the industry.
Meanwhile, we will see which way the court leans early next month, when U.S. District Judge William Alsup will take a decision on halting Uber’s self-driving program, disassociating Levandowski from, or letting them walk scot free. The case appears to be leaning in Waymo’s favor so far and you know, the times haven’t exactly been in Uber’s favor of late what with harassment claims, its CEO’s tiff with a driver and executive departures.
Let’s see if things take a turn for the better or the worse for the cab aggregator.