Race To Build Self-Driving Cars Accelerates
A former Google engineer at the center of a fight over self-driving car technology made more than $120 million, according to a legal filing Monday, highlighting the intense competition among tech companies and carmakers for talent in the nascent sector.
The autonomous vehicle unit, now called Waymo, claimed in an arbitration demand against the former employee, Anthony Levandowski, that he breached his contract by recruiting from its ranks for his rival company, Otto, — while collecting more than $120 million in incentive payments from the search giant.
Waymo and Levandowski’s current employer Uber Technologies Inc. are locked in a contentious legal battle over autonomous vehicle technology. The ride-hailing company is trying to persuade a court that Waymo’s February lawsuit should be resolved in private arbitration. Waymo had earlier filed an arbitration action against Levandowski.
Google’s self-driving car project had initially structured its compensation to create specific incentives for the robotics engineers working on the futuristic technology. As the project progressed and evolved into a potential business capable of upending transportation, several early team members got huge payments, as Bloomberg News earlier reported.
Uber and Waymo representatives declined to comment on Monday, and Levandowski didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Google also alleged that, in addition to Otto, Levandowski helped found two other companies developing laser-based sensor technology that ran afoul of his non-compete agreement with the search giant. Odin Wave LLC and Tyto Lidar LLC were merged by February 2014 and Levandowski had been involved in Odin Wave since at least the previous year, when he was also developing competing technology for Google, according to the legal filing.
Google at one stage investigated acquiring the merged company, which was run under the Tyto moniker, and Levandowski took part in that process without disclosing any role at the company, Google said. By May 2016, Tyto had been folded into Otto.