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Lawsuit claims Uber’s former head of self-driving paid a Tesla engineer to be updated on electric truck program

Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s former head of self-driving, is still neck-deep in a lawsuit alleging that he stole trade secrets from Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving company and his former employer. Now, he is facing another lawsuit claiming to shine a new light on the extent of his dealings.

According to the suit, it even includes paying a Tesla engineer to receive updates on the automaker’s electric truck program.

Mark Harris published a report in Wired about a lawsuit filed by Erika Wong, former nanny to Levandowski’s kids.

The lawsuit is about alleged “failure to pay wages, labor and health code violations, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things”, but it also claims to reveal new information about Levandowski’s alleged theft of self-driving IP and other shady dealings.

Due to her presence at Levandowski’s house when the Waymo-Uber scandal began to unfold, Wong claims to have overheard several incriminating conversations – with arguably the most interesting one being that the engineer was keeping tabs on Tesla’s self-driving truck effort by paying an engineer to give him information.

She claims to have heard him say “Make sure Pat Green [reportedly a Tesla engineer] gets paid.” Harris reports:

Wong had heard the same name in conversations between Levandowski and Randy Miller, his college friend and business partner on multiple construction deals. On April 6, according to the complaint, Green’s name came up again in discussions with Miller, this time connected to updates from Tesla’s electric trucking division. Wong’s complaint says that on April 27 she overheard Levandowski and his brother Mike talking about how Levandowski might drive up to Alberta, Canada, to avoid prison. She recalls Levandowski telling his brother, “Just arrange with Suzanna, dad, and Hazlett [another relative] to keep working with Pat Green. I need updates on Tesla trucking, the non-lidar technology is crucial and Nvidia chips. We can make money on both.”

Tesla Semi, the automaker electric semi truck program was unveiled in November. While the autonomous driving aspect of the truck hasn’t been a big focus, the vehicle is equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot hardware suite, which is known for being camera-based and not using lidar, a technology of which Levandowski has been a strong proponent.

The Autopilot is also currently powered by Nvidia chips, but Tesla is also working on its own chips.

Harris did track down a Tesla engineer named Patrick Green, but he couldn’t confirm that he is the same engineer referenced in the lawsuit, nor did Tesla or Green comment on the report.

Levandowski’s spokesperson called the lawsuit “frivolous” and believes that it will be dismissed. The initial case management conference is scheduled for April, but Levandowski will have to face the Waymo case first, next month.

Electrek’s Take

I will not speculate about the credibility of the nanny’s claims in this case since it only relies on what she allegedly heard. However, I think it’s fair to mention that we already know for a fact that Levandowski was kind of obsessed with Tesla, so it’s not that big of a stretch to think that he would go as far as paying to get a hold of information about the company.

Text messages between him and Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former CEO, released in the process of the lawsuit by Waymo showed that they talked about Tesla’s Autopilot program on several occasions and Levandowski even suggested going after Tesla’s Autopilot with a ‘faketesla’ campaign.

As the founder of Otto Trucking, he had a strong financial interest in autonomous trucks and Tesla was becoming a competitor through the combination of its Autopilot program and the newly unveiled Tesla Semi.

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