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Autonomous technology developer Anthony Levandowski was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he stole trade secrets from Google that he later used on other projects, including Otto’s self-driving technology for Class 8 trucks.
The indictment charges Levandowski with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets. It alleges that at the time he took the files from Google — where he had been working on automated driving technology — Levandowski was involved with two companies competing with Google in the self-driving space: Tyto LiDAR and 280 Systems Inc., the latter of which would become Ottomotto, or Otto.
Uber Technologies Inc. agreed to acquire Otto and hire Levandowski in 2016, just after Otto had acquired Tyto. Otto became Uber’s autonomous truck division, which has since been halted.
Levandowski spent several years at Google’s autonomous driving project, which is now called Waymo. Waymo filed charges against Uber alleging that Levandowski stole trade secrets and patents from Waymo for the development of self-driving technology and took it to Uber.
Levandowski has invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify in the case.
“All of us have the right to change jobs,” U.S. Attorney David Anderson said in a statement. “None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”
Most recently, Levandowski launched Pronto, a self-driving startup that offers Copilot, an aftermarket system designed to assist truck drivers while still requiring them to actively monitor the road ahead. The system can handle braking, steering and the throttle on a variety of road conditions while the driver monitors the road.
In a statement, Pronto said Robbie Miller, its chief safety officer, will take the reins as CEO. “Robbie is an experienced and respected autonomous vehicle industry veteran. Under his leadership, we will continue to deliver on our mission of bringing a new layer of safety to commercial trucking,” the company said. “The criminal charges filed against Anthony relate exclusively to Lidar and do not in any way involve Pronto’s ground-breaking technology. Of course, we are fully supportive of Anthony and his family during this period.”
Levandowski, 39, voluntarily surrendered to authorities and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if he’s convicted.
Levandowski “didn’t steal anything from anyone,” his lawyer, Miles Ehrlich, said in a statement. The indictment “rehashes claims discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year and a half ago.”
In his initial court appearance Aug. 27, Levandowski pleaded not guilty and was released by a judge — for now — on $2 million bail and a condition that he wear an ankle bracelet. He was told to return to court Sept. 4 for another bail hearing after prosecutors voiced concern that with his vast wealth and dual citizenship in France, he might try to charter a private plane and flee.
In a Medium post from December 2018, Levandowski acknowledged that he is a controversial figure in the world of automated vehicles but touted the safety record of his project.
“One thing I continue to stand by is my safety record, which is second to none in this industry,” he wrote. “My teams have a demonstrably impeccable track record. At every company where I have worked, safety was better during my tenure than before or after. On the safety front, I always look forward and am proud to work with and be challenged on a daily basis by the best in the business.”
Contributing: Bloomberg News