Uber fires autonomous auto researcher involved in lawsuit

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Uber released an internal email to employees today, informing them that the company fired Anthony Levandowski, a VP of technology and a lead engineer in the company's self-driving auto.

Uber has fired star engineer Anthony Levandowski.

Mr. Levandowski's termination, effective immediately, comes as a result of his involvement in a legal battle between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving technology unit spun out of Google a year ago.

Levandowski, who was not a defendant in the lawsuit against Uber, has declined to answer most questions and asserted his Fifth Amendment rights. A few months after leaving Google, he launched his own self-driving startup Otto, then sold it to Uber for a reported $680 million and joined the ride-hailing startup as its self-driving research lead.

In mid-May, US District Court Judge William Alsup issued a partial injunction that fell short of the complete shutdown of Uber's self-driving auto efforts that Alphabet lawyers had requested.

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Mr. Levandowski was sacked on Tuesday.

Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto, headed Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking. Levandowski taken the Fifth to keep from saying whether he took Waymo's files, whether Uber encouraged him to steal trade secrets, and anything relating to Uber's lidar technology, an imaging system used in autonomous vehicles. That Uber has dismissed the key person in a program they've argued has to happen, despite skepticism about the future of self-driving cars in general, will likely damage a company already staring down a host of problems.

San Francisco-based Uber said it pressed Levandowski for months to help with the investigation, and did not want to wait until the matter made its way through the courts to decide whether to let him go.

Uber fired Levandowski for failing to cooperate with the investigation and for failing to meet an Uber-imposed deadline for turning over documents.