Published: Fri, June 02, 2017
Hi-Tech | By Grace Becker

Waymo working on self-driving trucks

Waymo working on self-driving trucks

UBER Technologies Inc said on Tuesday it fired the technology whiz it had hired to lead its self-driving unit, Anthony Levandowski, after he failed to comply with a court order to hand over documents at the center of a legal dispute between Uber and Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Waymo unit.

Waymo claims Mr Levandowski took 14,000 documents with him when he departed the company to create his own start-up called Otto, which was also building self-driving cars. Now they are using the same experience to conduct a technical exploration to understand how the technology can be used in trucks to reduce the thousands of truck-related accidents that happen every year.

Waymo said it is testing only one truck.

Waymo's move into self-driving trucks comes as the company remains in a legal battle with Uber Inc. over allegedly stolen technology that resulted in Uber firing self-driving vehicle chief engineer Anthony Levandowski earlier this week.

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Uber has also experienced a string of executives departing, including Jeff Jones, president of the company's ride-hailing operations, and Amit Singhal, the senior vice president for engineering, who left after accusations of sexual harassment while working at Google were unearthed shortly after he started at Uber. Until the image surfaced, Waymo was only thought to be developing its autonomous driving platform on its cars, Lexus SUVs, and minivans, which have been extensively promoted as it ramps up its efforts with a public self-driving program in Phoenix. Some of them include the pilot program with Uber's rival Lyft and a large-scale public rider program in Phoenix, where residents are allowed to travel in a self-driving auto.

"Your failure impeded Uber's internal investigation and defense of the lawsuit referenced above and constitutes a ground for termination for cause", wrote Salle Yoo, Uber's general counsel, in a letter to Levandowski dated May 26. The company asked the engineer to confirm if he did or didn't steal documents from Google, and requested him to return any remaining records he had. Uber says its autonomous system is "fundamentally different" from Waymo technology. Waymo and Lyft will both test self-driving cars on the road, challenging Uber.

Google has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars for almost a decade to dominate the autonomous vehicle technology market.

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