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Ex-Google engineer charged in Uber self-driving theft case

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Attorneys Miles Ehrlich, left, and Ismail Ramsey, representing Anthony Levandowski, speak to reporters at a federal courthouse in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. Levandowski, 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. (Associated Press: JEFF CHIU)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A former Google engineer was charged Tuesday with stealing self-driving car technology from the company shortly before he joined Uber’s efforts to catch up in the high-stakes race to build robotic vehicles.

The indictment filed by the U.S. 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 settle the case for $245 million last year, but the presiding judge made an unusual recommendation to open a criminal probe after seeing enough evidence to conclude a theft may have occurred.

Uber considered having self-driving technology crucial to survive and counter potential competitive threats from Waymo and dozens of other companies working on robotic vehicles. Uber wants to build self-driving cars so it can eliminate the need to have a human behind the wheel, one of the biggest expenses in its still-unprofitable ride-hailing service.

Anthony Levandowski, a pioneer in robotic vehicles, was charged with 33 counts of trade secrets theft. Each count carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or $8.25 million if convicted of all counts.

Miles Ehrlich, one of Levandowski’s attorneys, maintained his innocence in a statement read outside the courthouse.

“He didn’t steal anything, from anyone,” Ehrlich said. “This case rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year.”

Prosecutors say the probe is ongoing, but they wouldn’t say whether Uber and former CEO Travis Kalanick are targets. Prosecutors say Google, Waymo and Uber cooperated in the investigation. Uber issued a statement Tuesday promising to continue to cooperate.

Although Tuesday’s indictment didn’t charge Uber, it’s a stain for a company that has been trying to recover from a series of scandals since jettisoning Kalanick two years ago . Uber has also been dealing with fallout from its own acknowledgement of rampant sexual harassment , its use of software designed to dupe regulators and a yearlong cover-up of a hacking attack that stole the personal information of 57 million passengers and 600,000 drivers.

The case seems unlikely to endear Uber with investors already skeptical about the company’s ability to make money after piling up billions of dollars of losses. The lack of profits is the main reason the company’s stock has fallen about 25% below the price set during its much-ballyhooed initial public offering of stock in May. Nonetheless, Uber’s stock fell less than 1% after the announcement.

The FBI depicted its pursuit of the complex case as a sign of its commitment to protecting technology considered vital to the economy’s growth. “Silicon Valley is not the Wild West,” said John Bennett, the FBI agent in charge of the investigation.

Levandowski, 39, turned himself in and was released later in the day on a $2 million bond. Prosecutors agreed to the release, even while characterizing him as a flight risk because of his wealth and dual citizenship in the U.S. and France. Levandowski, though, had already surrendered both passports to the FBI and will be required, at least initially, to wear an ankle bracelet with GPS tracking. He is also banned from airports while release details are worked out.

The indictment accuses Levandowski of stealing years of top-secret information, which prosecutors likened to the crown jewels of the Waymo spinoff. That included breakthroughs in lidar, a key piece of technology that enables self-driving cars to detect what’s around them.

During the Waymo trial, Kalanick conceded that Uber needed to develop self-driving cars if it hoped to maintain its early position as the world’s largest ride-hailing service. But he denied that he ever resorted to stealing technology from Google, whom he believed was an ally until he began to suspect the company intended to launch its own ride-hailing service consisting entirely of its robotic vehicles.

But Kalanick also testified that his push to build a fleet of self-driving cars for Uber led him to start wooing Levandowski in 2015 while he was still at Google. Levandowski left early the following year to devote his time to Otto, a self-driving truck company he started with another Google employee, Lior Ron, who also left. Uber bought Otto later in 2016 for $680 million.

Waymo, which spun off from Google in 2016, alleged that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents containing its trade secrets before he left for Otto.

Uber denied know anything about those documents, but eventually fired him after he repeatedly asserted his constitutional right against self-incrimination leading up to the trial.

Ehrlich’s statement Tuesday said Levandowski downloaded the documents as an authorized Google employee and never brought those files to Uber or any other company.

The whiff of potential wrongdoing in Waymo’s civil case became even more pungent following the disclosure of allegations by a former Uber security specialist, Richard Jacobs, that the company employed an espionage team to spy on Waymo and other rivals while creating ways to conceal any stolen technology.

Google also pursued a separate case against Levandowski in arbitration proceedings, which resulted in a panel ordering Levandowski to pay the company $127 million, according to disclosure made by Uber leading up to its IPO. Uber may be held liable for paying all or part of that as part of guarantees it made in its Otto acquisition, but believes it may be able to get out of those obligations.

After Levandowski left Uber, he started another self-driving startup called Pronto, which said Tuesday that he would no longer be its CEO as he defends himself against the charges.

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39 people found dead in truck container in southeast England

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Police officers attend the scene after a truck, in rear, was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurrock, South England, early Wednesday October 23, 2019. Police in southeastern England said that 39 people were found dead Wednesday inside a truck container believed to have come from Bulgaria. (Associated Press: ALASTAIR GRANT)

LONDON — Investigators were trying to piece together the movements of a large cargo truck found Wednesday containing the bodies of 39 people in one of Britain’s worst people smuggling tragedies.

Details about the victims, including where they were from, were scarce. Police in southeast England said they have not been identified — a process they warned would be slow.

The truck’s driver — a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland — was arrested on suspicion of murder. He has not been charged and his name has not been released.

He and other drivers who may have been at the wheel before him would have taken advantage of the European Union’s generally open borders to travel in several countries without border checks. Britain remains an attractive destination for immigrants, even as the U.K. is negotiating its divorce from the EU.

In Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson put aside the Brexit crisis, at least for a few minutes, and vowed that the people traffickers would be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“All such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice,” he said.

Ambulance workers discovered the bodies after being called at 1:40 a.m. to a truck on the grounds of the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of London on the River Thames. It was unclear who called the ambulance service.

No cause of death has been made public. Police said one victim appeared to be a teenager but gave no further details.

Police initially said the cargo truck had traveled through Ireland and then to Wales via ferry. But Essex police later said they believe the container with the people inside went from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, England, where it arrived early Wednesday. Police said they believe the tractor unit traveled from Northern Ireland and picked up the container unit.

“This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives. Our inquiries are ongoing to establish what has happened,” Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner told reporters.

The cargo truck had a Bulgaria registration, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said in a news release. But Bulgarian authorities said they could not yet confirm that the truck had started its journey there. The Foreign Ministry said the Swedish-made “Scania” truck was registered in the Bulgarian Black Sea port city of Varna to a company owned by a woman from Ireland.

“We are in contact with our embassy in London and with British authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tsvetana Krasteva said.

The number of victims was shocking, although it has become sadly common in recent years for small numbers of migrants to occasionally be found dead in sealed vehicles after having been abandoned by traffickers.

The tragedy recalls the death of 58 migrants in 2000 in a truck in Dover, England, and the deaths in 2015 of 71 migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who were found suffocated in the back of a refrigerated truck that was abandoned on an Austrian highway close to the Hungarian border.

It seems likely the traffickers shunned the most popular English Channel route from Calais, France, to Dover, England because of increased surveillance at those ports and instead chose a more circuitous route.

Dover and Calais, which have been under pressure from human traffickers for years, have sniffer dogs, monitors and more advanced technological surveillance due to the fact that they are the endpoints for the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain.

Groups of migrants have repeatedly landed on English shores using small boats for the risky Channel crossing, and migrants are sometimes found in the trunks of cars that disembark from the massive ferries that link France and England, but Wednesday’s macabre find in an industrial park was a reminder that trafficking gangs are still profiting from the human trade.

“To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil,” lawmaker Jackie Doyle-Price, who represents the region in parliament, told Parliament.

The National Crime Agency said its specialists were working to “urgently identify and take action against any organized crime groups who have played a role in causing these deaths.”

It said in May that the number of people being smuggled into Britain via cargo trucks was on the rise.

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CDL Meals forms partnership with American Association of Owner-Operators

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CDL Meals offers a variety of organic chef-prepared meals that help drivers make healthy eating choices while on the road. (Courtesy: CDL MEALS)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — CDL Meals, the division of Fresh n’ Lean focusing on healthful meal options for professional truck and bus drivers, has formed a partnership with the American Association of Owner Operators (AAOO).

CDL Meals offers a variety of organic chef-prepared meals that help drivers make healthy eating choices while on the road.

“We could not be more excited to launch our first healthy-eating alliance with AAOO,” said Bob Perry, director of CDL Meals. “We believe that people working in all industries deserve to live a healthy lifestyle and have access to the tools they need to ensure overall wellbeing, despite industry standards and limitations. CDL Meals has already made a positive impact on drivers and through this partnership, more operators can benefit from the quality meal plans.”

The American Association of Owner Operators is a nationwide organization dedicated to providing professional truckers and small fleet owners with the latest technology, benefits and assistance to advance in today’s trucking industry.

Perry said through the partnership, members of the AAOO will have access to CDL’s seasonal menus, free nationwide delivery and the promise of fresh, affordable meals on the road.

“We are so thankful the team at Fresh n’ Lean saw an opening to help improve the wellbeing of those in the trucking industry,” said David Huff, CEO of AAOO. “We are committed to helping drivers stay safe while out on the road so they can get back home to their family and friends. “Good nutrition is the most important part of staying healthy and staying healthy is a huge factor in staying safe. That’s why we are so excited to partner with CDL Meals and provide great tasting meals at an affordable price to our members.”

Perry said CDL Meals is a service formulated especially for commercially licensed drivers to deliver chef-prepared food items anywhere within the U.S. using organic ingredients to create balanced, wholesome meals. Each menu option consists of a combination of protein, healthy carbohydrates, and vegetables. All meals are delivered fresh and can be refrigerated for up to seven days. The vacuum-sealed trays can be heated quickly and enjoyed at any time.

Along with the meals, each purchase comes with a 14-page driver wellness education booklet that includes dietary tips, an exercise plan, and suggestions to improve overall health through simple lifestyle changes.

For more information on CDL Meals, visit www.cdlmeals.com.

For more information on AAOO, visit https://aaofoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

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NHTSA: Overall traffic fatalities in 2018 decline 2.4%, 2019 drop likely

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NHTSA said the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled decreased by 3.4 percent (from 1.17 in 2017 to 1.13 in 2018), the lowest fatality rate since 2014. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Tuesday released highway crash fatality data for 2018, showing a 2.4% decline in overall fatalities, the second consecutive year of reduced crash fatalities.

“This is encouraging news, but still far too many perished or were injured, and nearly all crashes are preventable, so much more work remains to be done to make America’s roads safer for everyone,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.

The data, compiled by NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), shows that highway fatalities decreased in 2018 with 913 fewer fatalities, down to 36,560 people from 37,473 people in 2017. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled also decreased by 3.4 percent (from 1.17 in 2017 to 1.13 in 2018), the lowest fatality rate since 2014.

The 2018 FARS release also clarifies previously released data on large trucks involved in fatal crashes. NHTSA reexamined supporting material and reclassified several light pickup trucks to an appropriate large truck category (10,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR). As a result, the 9% increase in large-truck-related fatalities reported for 2017 has been revised to 4.9%. For 2018, large-truck related fatalities increased by 0.9 percent. The details of the scope of the changes are documented in the 2018 fatal motor vehicle crashes overview research note.

No data was available on Class 8 tractor-trailer combinations.

Other findings from the 2018 FARS data include:

  • Fatalities among children (14 and younger) declined 10.3%
  • Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities declined 3.6%
  • Speeding-related fatalities declined 5.7%
  • Motorcyclist fatalities declined 4.7 percent.

“New vehicles are safer than older ones and when crashes occur, more new vehicles are equipped with advanced technologies that prevent or reduce the severity of crashes,” said NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens said. “NHTSA has spent recent years partnering with state and local governments and safety advocates to urge the public to never drive impaired or distracted, to avoid excessive speed, and to always buckle up.”

Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governor Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said the organization was pleased to see the 2018 decline and the estimated 3.4% dip thus far in 2019.

“A decline in 2019 would mark three straight years of fewer fatalities despite a strong economy, which typically correlates with increased traffic deaths,” he said. “However, the only acceptable level of deaths is zero, and we will not rest until that is achieved.”

Adkins said GHSA was glad to note progress in reducing alcohol-related, speeding-related and motorcyclist fatalities in 2018.

“The tremendous investments made today in highway safety have been beneficial, but clearly not commensurate with the need,” Adkins said. “GHSA is committed to working with our partners in the federal government, advocacy community and at the state and local level to accelerate the momentum toward zero deaths on our nation’s roadways.”

NHTSA said the projected 2019 decline translates to an estimated first-half 2019 fatality rate of 1.06, the lowest first-half level since 2015. The estimates for the second quarter of 2019 represent the seventh-consecutive year-over-year quarterly decline in fatalities, starting in the last quarter of 2017.

NHTSA is identifying opportunities to leverage its resources and collaborate with modal partners within USDOT to reduce fatalities among pedestrians and pedalcyclists (bicyclists and riders of two-wheel, nonmotorized vehicles, tricycles, and unicycles powered solely by pedals), among whom 2018 fatalities unfortunately increased by 3.4% (to 6,283) and 6.3% (to 857), respectively.

With the release of the 2018 and 2019 data, NHTSA also introduced its new Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool (FIRST), a modernized crash query tool that lets users not only query fatal crash data but also generate estimates of crashes and people injured in crashes. The upgraded functionalities in the new tool include generating multi-year trends, estimates of alcohol involvement, and charting/tabulation/mapping of query results. The tool, along with instructions on its usage, can be accessed here.

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