Engineers in Uber's self-driving car division may be looking to jump ship ahead of an important court decision brought on by Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, which also owns Google. Citing multiple sources, Recode reported that some of Uber's engineers are actively looking to get out. In its lawsuit against Uber, Alphabet had asked the court for a preliminary injunction that would ban Uber from using its trade secrets, which could put a stop on parts of Uber's self-driving endeavors. Alphabet alleged that Uber's former head of self-driving technology Anthony Levandowski had downloaded 14,000 files while he was employed at Google, and Uber's progress in this space is aided by Alphabet's research. While the judge is still deciding on Alphabet's request for a preliminary injunction (a decision is expected this week), some of Uber's engineers seemingly feel as though their future could be in limbo.
According to the information coming through, morale is low with many at Uber frustrated that they may have to step away from their projects if a court rules against the company. However, those who disagreed with Levandoski's leadership at Uber are said to be playing the wait-and-see approach, hoping that this will lead the company in a different direction. Regardless of the outcome of the court's verdict, Uber's engineers may not have much to worry about. With autonomous driving so buzz-worthy, money is being spent on acquiring talent in this space. In addition to Alphabet's Waymo and Uber, traditional automotive companies and technology companies are also entering the space, with efforts now being seen by the likes of GM, Ford, Volvo, Samsung, Intel, NVIDIA and even Verizon Wireless.
While Uber engineers are fearing for their jobs and the future of their projects, Uber also has a lot at stake on this case. If the judge decides in favor of Alphabet, Uber may have to cancel its work in autonomous driving or it would have to find ways to work around infringing technologies and trade secrets that Waymo owns, like the lidar systems found on Uber's self-driving cars. For its part, Uber seems to be doubling down on its efforts in this space. It recently hired University of Toroto's Raquel Urtasun, who works in machine learning and AI research, and who will lead Uber's autonomous vehicle push in Canada.