A former Google engineer was charged Tuesday with stealing closely guarded secrets that he later sold to Uber as the ride-hailing service scrambled to catch up in the high-stakes race to build robotic vehicles. The indictment filed by the US Attorney's office in San Jose, California, is an offshoot of a lawsuit filed in 2017 by Waymo, a self-driving car pioneer spun off from Google. Uber agreed to pay Waymo $245 million to settle the case, but the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit made an unusual recommendation to open a criminal probe. Anthony Levandowski, a pioneer in robotic vehicles, was charged with 33 counts of trade secrets theft. He could be sentenced up to 10 years and fined $250,000 per count, $8.25 million altogether. The details, per the AP:
- Levandowski is accused of stealing years of top-secret information from Google, which prosecutors called the crown jewels of the company. That included Google's breakthroughs in lidar, a key piece of technology that enables self-driving cars to detect what's around them.
- In a statement, Levandowski's attorneys maintain his innocence. "He didn't steal anything, from anyone," the statement says. "This case rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year ago." Prosecutors say Levandowski turned himself in earlier Tuesday.