Uber knew fired engineer had information about Google’s self-driving car tech

Uber has acknowledged hiring a former Google engineer — now accused of stealing self-driving car technology — despite having received warnings that he was still carrying around some of his former employer’s property.

The admission, contained in a Thursday court filing, is the latest twist in a high-profile legal fight between the ride-hailing company and a Google spin-off, Waymo. Both companies are battling to build self-driving cars that could reshape the way people travel.

Waymo alleges that Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer at the crux of the case, ripped off its trade secrets before departing in January 2016 to found a robotic vehicle startup that Uber acquired seven months later.

The lawsuit maintains that Uber then transplanted the intellectual property allegedly stolen by Levandowski into its own fleet of self-driving vehicles — a charge that Uber has adamantly denied since Waymo filed its complaint in federal court four months ago.

In May, US district judge William Alsup ordered Uber to return the stolen files, writing that evidence indicated the company “knew or should have known that he possessed over 14,000 confidential Waymo files.”

Now, Uber has for the first time has acknowledged that Levandowski informed its now-departed CEO , Travis Kalanick, that he had five disks filled with Google’s information five months before joining Uber. The disclosure, made in March 2016, lends credence to Waymo’s allegation that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents on to a computer before leaving Google.

Uber

Uber, though, says Kalanick told Levandowski not to bring any of the Google information with him to Uber. At that time, a deal had been reached for Uber to buy Levandowski’s startup, Otto, for $680 million, though the acquisition wasn’t completed until August 2016.

The filing asserts that Levandowski destroyed the disks containing Google’s material not long after Kalanick told him that Uber didn’t want the information on them.

Levandowski’s lawyers didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. They have been advising Levandowski to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination since Waymo filed its lawsuit.

Based on the evidence he has seen so far, Alsup has already referred the case to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation.

The scenario sketched by Uber comes a few weeks after the company fired Levandowski for refusing to relinquish his Fifth Amendment rights and cooperate with its efforts to defend itself against Waymo’s suit.

Kalanick resigned as Uber’s CEO Tuesday week after investors demanded he step down. The investors who have financed Uber’s growth had concluded Kalanick had to go following revelations of sexual harassment in the company’s office, a federal investigation into company tactics used to thwart regulators, and the threat of even more trouble posed by the Waymo lawsuit.

Self-driving cars ‘must have driver’, regulators insist

However, the cautious recommendations from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will, initially at least, insist on a fully licensed driver being behind the wheel, ready to take over in an emergency or if the technology fails.

California has been the testing ground for most of the development, and so regulations in the state are considered to be precedent-setting.

Prospective users of self-driving cars will need to undergo special training, and manufacturers would be required to monitor the cars’ use.

Answering a common query, regulators said any traffic violations or accidents would remain the responsibility of the human driver.

‘Potential risks’

Many firms are investing heavily in researching and creating self-driving vehicles, such as Ford, Uber and Tesla.

Google, which leads the research field, has made a self-driving car without any controls such as steering wheels or pedals.

Lexus cars

But the DMV’s proposals would mean such vehicles would not, for the foreseeable future at least, be made available for consumers.

A statement from the DMV read: “Given the potential risks associated with deployment of such a new technology, DMV believes that manufacturers need to obtain more experience in testing driverless vehicles on public roads prior to making this technology available to the general public.”

Instead, any car offering self-driving capability must also be fitted with traditional controls – such as the adapted Lexus Google has been testing on roads already.

Protection

This slightly dampens hopes that self-driving technology would enable those who are currently unable to drive – such as people with disabilities – to get on the roads.

However, the DMV said it would reassess the safety of fully-autonomous vehicles in the future.

A public consultation on the draft will take place in the new year.

The draft also adds requirements for manufacturers to ensure that vehicles are protected from cyber attacks.

California says self-driving cars must have driver for now

California, the largest car market in the United States, issued draft rules on Wednesday for self-driving cars, requiring a licensed driver inside the vehicle in case of failure in a plan that stresses safety.

The regulations by the Department of Motor Vehicles are intended to help nurture the state’s nascent but fast-growing autonomous vehicle technology industry while allowing traditional car companies and new entrants like Alphabet Inc and Apple Inc to safely deploy their self-driving cars already in development.

The rules, which will face a period of public comment before being finalized, set out a path to take the industry from the current stage of vehicle testing to actually rolling them out to consumers.

California has been at the forefront of the fast-growing autonomous vehicle industry, fueled by technology companies in Silicon Valley, and is one of a handful of states to have passed regulations enabling self-driving car testing on public roads.

Currently, 11 companies have permits to drive autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state, provided there is a licensed driver in the car, with Ford being the most-recent entrant.

The proposed regulations require certification and third-party testing for carmakers, as well as regular reports back to the DMV for a period of three years. Data from that testing will be used to inform future regulation, the DMV said.

Manufacturers are also required to disclose the data they collect, other than from safety systems, and obtain approval to collect it. Concerns that self-driving cars could be a way for major data collectors like Google to collect information on consumers have fueled privacy concerns.

Google – which is operating its self-driving cars on the streets of Palo Alto, California and Austin, Texas – and other carmakers and suppliers have said the technology to build self-driving cars should be ready by 2020.

Don’t get lazy, take off your child’s winter coat before strapping them into a car seat

Volvo Child Seat

Many folks are content to just strap Junior into his car seat without removing his winter coat. After all, it’s cold outside, you’re cold, he’s cold and the car’s not exactly toasty, either. However, in the desire to scrape seconds off your morning routine, you could be putting your child in additional danger if there’s ever a collision.

The issue relates to the space between the child and the seat’s restraints. Big winter coats require the belt to give up some slack and create additional space between the young’un and the belt. In a collision, when everything comes to a grinding halt, instead of slowing your child down, he or she could wind up slamming into the slackened belt, causing injury.

suggests a pretty straightforward solution — the pinch method. When your child is strapped into the seat, pinch the belt near his or her collarbone. If there’s any belt built up in that pinch, it’s not tight enough. If that means taking off Junior’s coat, so be it. You can always wrap the whole seat in a blanket to keep him toasty while the car heats up. This goes for slightly older children in booster seats, too.

Sure, it’s a little more work, but there’s something to be said about doing more than the bare minimum when it comes to child safety. Until self-driving cars alleviate our concerns about getting into accidents, it’s a wise idea to be as well prepared as possible.