Tesla’s former Autopilot program Director Sterling Anderson left the company in December to start his own self-driving startup, Aurora Innovation, with Chris Urmson, a founding member of Google’s self-driving project, which recently became Waymo. The departure from Tesla was less than amicable since the company filed a lawsuit against Anderson claiming that he stole proprietary information about Tesla’s Autopilot program and poached engineers who were reporting to him.
The lawsuit was settled today with Tesla withdrawing their allegations without damages and Aurora agreeing to make itself available for an audit by a third-party to make sure they don’t have proprietary information from Tesla’s Autopilot program.
Aurora also agreed to cover the cost of the audit for up to $100,000. The startup claims that it had already ordered its own audit, which found “no material Tesla confidential information”.
As for the allegations of poaching employees, Aurora has agreed not to reach out to Tesla employees for a year and to release the names of former Tesla employees who have joined the startup already.
After a quick search of Aurora employees on LinkedIn, it’s clear that Tesla has nothing to complain – at least when compared to Uber. Based on that research, though of course LinkedIn data is not always up to date, a handful of Autopilot engineers joined Aurora while almost a dozen of former Uber engineers working on self-driving have joined the startup, including Drew Bagnell, a Carnegie Mellon University who was part of Uber’s autonomous driving leadership until last December.
While it was a messy breakup between Tesla and Anderson, it looks like it’s now over. It’s becoming clear that Aurora is more than a spinoff of Tesla’s Autopilot program, which wasn’t clear from its uncontrolled coming out in Tesla’s lawsuit.
Considering the impressive talent and self-driving experience that they manage to get together in a short period of time, it will be interesting to see what they can come up with. We are told that the startup has a prototype for its autonomous driving platform, but they are not quite ready to go public with it yet.
You can read Aurora’s statement about the settlement in full here and Tesla’s further down below:
“Self-driving vehicles will save lives, preserve resources, and make transportation more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Aurora was founded on the premise that experience, innovative thinking, hard work, and a commitment to doing the right thing can accelerate this future.
Delivering on a lofty vision is hard; in late January 2017 it got harder. Tesla filed a meritless lawsuit against us, supported by an aggressive public relations effort. Disappointed, but determined to defend our integrity, we immediately commissioned a comprehensive forensics audit that proved what we already knew to be true: (1) no material Tesla confidential information exists on our personal computers or company systems, and (2) there is no evidence that anyone at Aurora has used or has access to Tesla confidential information.
Today, less than three months after filing (and even before we were permitted to file a response) Tesla has withdrawn its claims, without damages, without attorney’s fees, and without any finding of wrongdoing. We have even agreed to reimburse the cost of a future audit to demonstrate the integrity of Aurora’s intellectual property.
In spite of this distraction, we’ve made great progress this last few months and are excited to now focus all of our energy on making transportation safer and better for all. We’ve been developing self-driving vehicles since long before it was trendy, and remain committed to bringing this important technology to market with the right team, doing things the right way. Join us!”
“Tesla’s lawsuit against Mr. Anderson, Mr. Urmson, and Aurora has been settled. Under the settlement, Mr. Anderson’s contractual obligations to Tesla will remain in place and will also be extended to Aurora, with additional specific protections being added to ensure there are no further violations. The settlement also establishes a process to allow Tesla to recover all of the proprietary information that was taken from the company, and it provides for Aurora’s computer systems to be subject to ongoing audits to monitor for any improper retention or use of Tesla’s property. Finally, $100,000 was paid to Tesla.”