Uber Is in the Clear—For Now

A federal judge gives Uber some much-needed good news about their self-driving car program.

Uber

Google’s autonomous car tech company Waymo is currently fighting ride-hailing service Uber in a San Francisco federal court. Waymo claims that Uber stole important trade secrets in developing self-driving car technology via recruitment of engineer Anthony Levandowski.

Uber’s short-term fate was in the hands of US District Judge William Alsup, who decided on Wednesday that there is "no smoking gun" to prove wrongdoing. That means they're free to continue developing their autonomous car tech at least until the trial in October. To help their chances in court, Uber demoted Levandowski to a lesser role in developing the allegedly stolen technology.

Levandowski left Waymo in 2016 and took 14,000 confidential files with him to start his own company called Otto. His new company was intended to make self-driving kits to retrofit on big rig trucks. Otto was acquired by Uber for $680 million about two months after the company was launched.

Despite the pricey acquisition, Uber claims that none of the files Levandowski took from Waymo were used in developing their driverless car technology. They’re saying their technology was developed without significant input from Levandowski, but that raises the question of why they bought his company for over a half-billion dollars.

This wouldn’t have been the first roadblock for Uber’s autonomous car program. Back in March, one of Uber’s autonomous Volvo XC90s in Tempe, AZ got in an accident and landed on its side with two occupants injured. They’ve since suspended their self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona and in Pittsburgh, PA.

Depending on how this shakes out in the long run, Waymo could suddenly take a healthy lead in the race for bringing autonomous cars into the mainstream.