Anthony Levandowski, one of the most controversial figures in the self-driving car business, is connected to a new driverless truck startup, TechCrunch has reported. Called Kache.ai, the company is still in stealth mode, so little is known about its technology or business model.
What we do know is that Kache’s incorporation documents list an address in St. Helena, California that—according to TechCrunch—is owned by Levandowski’s father and stepmother. “Kǎchē” is “truck” in Chinese.
We also know a lot about Levandowski. He was involved in the DARPA Grand Challenge competitions more than a decade ago. Later, he was a key figure in Google’s self-driving car program before he left to start the self-driving truck startup Otto in 2016. Within months of its founding, Otto was acquired by Uber, and Levandowski was put in charge of Uber’s driverless car program.
But Waymo—the new name for Google’s self-driving car project—sued Uber, claiming that Levandowski had stolen trade secrets on his way out the door. Facing possible criminal prosecution, Levandowski invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying in the civil lawsuit between Waymo and Uber. Uber fired him soon afterward.
Documents revealed during the lawsuit between Uber and Waymo suggested that Levandowski took a dismissive attitude toward safety during his days with the Google self-driving car team.
“We don’t need redundant brakes & steering or a fancy new car; we need better software,” Levandowski wrote to Alphabet CEO Larry Page in January 2016. “To get to that better software faster we should deploy the first 1000 cars asap. I don’t understand why we are not doing that. Part of our team seems to be afraid to ship.”
In another email, he wrote that “the team is not moving fast enough due to a combination of risk aversion and lack of urgency.”
“I think it’s fair to say we had different points of view on safety,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in testimony during the lawsuit against Uber.
Kache’s website was scrubbed after Techcrunch started asking questions about it, but cached versions indicate that Levandowski has brought the same aggressive approach he pioneered at Waymo and Uber to the company.
“We’re developing the solution for the next level of on-the-road self-driving trucks,” the website said. “Our development philosophy is based on a fast moving, very aggressive agile team approach.”
According to Techcrunch, “it appears the company is hiring at every level, from mapping and database experts to people with robotics and simulation skills. The website also noted that the company is looking for software engineers with experience in convolutional neural networks as well as computer vision and machine learning algorithms.”