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Uber’s self-driving lead engineer wanted to go after Tesla’s Autopilot with ‘faketesla’ campaign

Through the discovery process of the lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, in which the latter is accusing the former of having colluded with a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, to steal technology from their self-driving car startup, we now learn that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Levandowski really don’t like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and some of the claims he made about the Autopilot program.

In a series of text messages between the two released by Waymo’s lawyers (first reported by Mark Harris at IEEE), Uber’s CEO and Levandowski, who until recently led Uber’s self-driving effort after the ride-sharing company bought his self-driving truck startup Otto, exchanged articles about Tesla’s Autopilot being blamed in accidents and comments about Musk’s claims regarding Tesla’s self-driving efforts.

Musk has often talked about not needing lidar sensors to achieve fully self-driving capacity. It’s something we discussed in detail in our report “Tesla still has no plans to use LiDAR in consumer vehicles, but does use the tech for ‘ground truthing’“, but the gist of it is that Musk prefers the use of a combination of computer vision through cameras and radar detection. He sees the combination of cameras and radar antennas as more efficient than lidar sensors when it comes to dealing with fog, rain, and snow.

Levandowski, who is an expert in lidar sensors and developed some of Google’s lidar technology, which is what the company is accusing him of having stolen, called Musk’s claim “shit” and even suggested to Kalanick that they should start a “faketesla” social media campaign.

“We’ve got to start calling Elon on his shit. I’m not on social media but let’s start “faketesla” and start give physics lessons about stupid shit Elon says […]”

The engineer also claims that Musk was lying about the safety record of the Autopilot and they shared articles of alleged Autopilot crashes. For example, Levandowski sent Kalanick an article about an accident that happened in Irvine, California, back in June 2016.

A Tesla Model X owner, Puzant Ozbag, claimed that his wife was about to park the all-electric SUV in a parking lot when the vehicle accelerated “on its own” and crashed into a building (pictured above), according to his wife. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

The claim was quickly refuted.

When reporting on the accident and Ozbag’s claim, we reached out to Tesla and they reviewed the vehicle’s logs. A spokesperson told us that the logs show that the vehicle’s response was “consistent with the driver’s actions” and that the accelerator pedal was “abruptly increased to 100%.”

Later, Tesla hacker Jason Hughes bought Ozbag’s Model X from salvage and was able to confirm Tesla’s version of the story by extracting the logs and footage from the accident.

In October 2016, when Tesla announced its Autopilot 2.0 hardware and made the claim that it would eventually enable fully self-driving capability, Levandowski and Kalanick also exchanged a few text messages about the announcement:

It’s not exactly surprising to see some animosity between Tesla and Uber.

Earlier this year, Tesla called Otto, Levandowski’s self-driving truck startup that Uber acquired, ‘little more than demoware’, in a lawsuit filed against Tesla’s former Autopilot director.

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