If you’re looking for a weekend longread, I recommend “Fury Road: Did Uber Steal the Driverless Future from Google”, written by Max Chafkin and Mark Bergen in Bloomberg.
Although the headline is about Uber and Google, the article is really about current Uber executive, and former Google executive, Anthony Levandowski.
The article is a kind of mini-autobiography of Levandowski, with a particular emphasis on the latest stages in his career — Google (now Waymo), then Otto, then Uber Advanced Technologies Group.
The article doesn’t take a strong position on the merits of Google’s lawsuit against Uber and Levandowski. It’s more useful as background information on some of the most important individuals and companies in the industry.
Before I drop in some quotes, I should mention that I have a number of connections to people who appear in the article. My boss, Sebastian Thrun, launched the Google Self-Driving Car program. The article doesn’t quote him, but he does appear in a few cameos. Additionally, Otto, and now Uber ATG, has been a terrific partner of the Udacity Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree Program. I’ve met Levandowski briefly, and he seems like good people.
Here are some of the quotes that stuck with me:
“At 16 he started a web design firm that a former colleague says made him a millionaire by the end of high school.”
“Ghostrider, his self-balancing, self-driving motorcycle, was the only two-wheel vehicle in the contest [the 2004 DARPA Challenge].”
“Anthony is a rogue force of nature,” says a former Google self-driving car executive. “Each phase of his Google career he had a separate company doing exactly the same work.” According to two former Google employees, founders Page and Sergey Brin tolerated Levandowski’s freelancing because they saw it as the fastest way to make progress. Google’s car team embraced Levandowski’s nature, too. The attitude, says a former colleague, was “he’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole.”