A court order handed down by federal judge William Alsup will see Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee accused of bringing trade secrets to Uber, banned from ever doing any work related to LiDAR technology again. The order is three-pronged; not only can Levandowski no longer work in LiDAR, but Uber has been ordered to produce the alleged stolen data, some 14,000 files, and return it all to Waymo. On top of all of that, Waymo has been granted the privilege of expedited discovery, which essentially means that they have free reign to present any evidence they find to the court for immediate consideration as possible cause for a full injunction, which would knock Uber out of the autonomous car game altogether until further notice.
Uber had already pulled Levandowski from the self-driving car team during the investigation and court case, but could have reinstated him before today. While this motion effectively cripples Uber's efforts in the self-driving world and gives Waymo the freedom to launch an all out legal assault, it's arguably a slap on the wrist compared to some of the things that have already happened in this case. Uber tried to have the case taken out of the public eye, and later filed a motion to compel arbitration, taking the case out of the federal court system. Both of these motions were denied, and Judge Alsup even recommended that the case be looked over to possibly be transferred to a criminal court, where charges like fraud and misappropriation could be thrown around and people involved could find themselves facing down long prison sentences.
Anthony Levandowski, the man at the center of it all, was just another Googler at one point, deeply involved with self-driving cars. When he took off and founded self-driving truck startup Otto, allegations that he had taken trade secrets and code that he had created as Waymo's property with him were a whisper at best. When Uber snapped up Otto in a matter of months from its formation and put Levandowski to work building LiDAR, the same technology used by Waymo, that whisper grew into a roar. Waymo produced fairly compelling evidence to back up their allegations of Levandowski's misdeeds and Uber benefiting from them, which is how Levandowski and Uber found themselves facing down Waymo in a federal court.