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​Uber's self-driving chief steps aside as Waymo suit heats up

In a twist to the Waymo vs. Uber legal saga over self-driving cars, Anthony Levandowski recuses himself from all things lidar.

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Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber's self-driving car program, steps aside amid a lawsuit with Waymo.

ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images

The plot has thickened in the Waymo vs. Uber lawsuit.

Anthony Levandowski, a key witness in the case, said Thursday he is stepping down as the head of Uber's self-driving car program, according to an email obtained by Business Insider. Although he will remain at Uber, Levandowski said he will also no longer work on certain autonomous vehicle technologies for the company.

"Travis and I have decided that I will be recused from all lidar-related work and management at Uber, through the remainder of the Waymo litigation," Levandowski wrote in the email, referring to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Uber confirmed Levandowski sent the email and will be stepping down from some of his duties.

Levandowski is at the center of a lawsuit in which Waymo accuses him of stealing 14,000 "highly confidential" files on self-driving car technology. Levandowski used to work at Waymo, the autonomous vehicle unit of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, but quit to form his own self-driving truck startup. Uber bought that startup, Otto, last year.

Levandowski helped develop Waymo's lidar technology, a key component in self-driving cars that lets vehicles "see" their surroundings and detect traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists and other obstacles. Waymo claims the allegedly stolen information has benefited Uber as it's developed its own driverless car tech.

Uber says its lidar technology is "fundamentally different" from Waymo's.

"We should all be proud that our self-driving technology has been built independently, from the ground up," Levandowski wrote in his email on Thursday.

Self-driving cars are a hot topic in the auto and tech industries. Automakers from Toyota to Ford to Volvo all have projects under way. And besides Google and Uber, other Silicon Valley giants, like Apple, Intel and Tesla Motors, are betting on the tech. These companies are competing neck and neck to be the first ones to provide the vehicles to the public.

In his email, Levandowski wrote that even though he is recusing himself from working on Uber's lidar technology, his other responsibilities at the company will remain the same.

"Making this organizational change means I will have absolutely no oversight over or input into our lidar work," Levandowski wrote. "Going forward, please make sure not to include me in meetings or email threads related to lidar, or ask me for advice on the topic."

Uber has promoted Eric Meyhofer to be the new head of Uber's self-driving car program and he will report directly to Kalanick. Levandowski will now report to Meyhofer.

Waymo didn't respond to a request for comment.

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