A former engineer has pleaded guilty to stealing manufacturing secrets from Google’s self-driving cars and sharing them with competitors bought by Uber, according to his statement signed Thursday in San Francisco and obtained by AFP. Anthony Levandowski, 39, worked at Google where he was one of the founding members in 2009 of the project called “Chauffeur”, to develop autonomous cars, one of the most ambitious companies of the internet giant.
He admits having downloaded a whole series of documents a few months before his resignation in January 2016, including plans for the LiDAR system (for Light Detection And Ranging) which is a kind of radar where a laser replaces electromagnetic waves. This essential technology in future self-driving cars must be used to measure distances and detect obstacles. Mr. Levandowski was the head of the unit responsible for developing this in-house LiDAR.
“Theft is not innovation”
Last August, Mr. Levandowski was charged with 33 counts. He only pleaded guilty to one of them on Thursday, in exchange for abandoning the others. The stolen documents were valued between $ 550,000 and $ 1.5 million. The engineer faces up to 10 years in prison and a $ 250,000 fine. ” We all have the right to quit our jobs, but none of us have the right to line our pockets when we leave. Theft is not innovation ”, had launched David Anderson, the federal prosecutor in August.
According to the indictment, Mr. Levandowski was in contact with two companies competing with Google in the niche of the autonomous car, at the same time as he seized the sensitive files. These two companies, Tyto Lidar and 280 Systems, became Ottomotto, and the latter was acquired by Uber in 2016. Mr. Lewandowski was hired at that time by the world leader in private car rental with driver.
At the end of 2016, Google’s self-driving car division was renamed Waymo. It depends on its parent company Alphabet.