The Fuse

This Week In AVs: Trump Pardons Levandowski; Microsoft Invests In Cruise; And More

by Alex Adams | @alexjhadams | January 21, 2021

Trump Pardons Anthony Levandowski
In one of his final acts as president, Donald Trump issued a slew of pardons that included former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski. Text from the now-archived Trump White House website notes the pardon was supported by Peter Thiel, among others, and added, “Notably, his sentencing judge called him a ‘brilliant, groundbreaking engineer that our country needs.’” The AP report on the pardon adds that when he sentenced Levandowski to 18 months in prison for stealing secrets from Google as he moved to Uber, Judge William Alsup also noted, “This is the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen.”

In a tweet, Levandowski said he was “grateful for the opportunity to move forward, and thankful to the President and others who supported and advocated on my behalf.” Uber and Waymo settled a corresponding trade secret lawsuit in early 2018 for $425 million. Late last year, Uber sold its self-driving division to AV startup Aurora Innovation, in a deal that saw Aurora’s valuation rise to $10 billion.

Aurora Partners With Paccar On Autonomous Trucks
Self-driving startup Aurora Innovation announced yesterday that it is partnering up with truck-maker Paccar to develop self-driving heavy-duty trucks. The partnership is Aurora’s first commercial application in trucking, and the company says it will combine its engineering teams around an “accelerated development program” to create driverless-capable trucks, starting with Paccar’s Peterbilt 579 and the Kenworth T680.

The Paccar-Aurora tie-up is the latest in a series of deals that seek to bring greater automation to an industry that transports that majority of freight in the United States. In October last year, Daimler and Waymo announced a “broad, global, strategic partnership” to develop and deploy Level 4 self-driving trucks. In September, Volkswagen trucking subsidiary Traton Group struck a deal with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple to develop self-driving systems for the Traton brand. VW’s trucking subsidiary also finalized a deal in November with American truck-maker Navistar to jointly develop self-driving trucks.

Microsoft Makes AV Bet With Cruise Investment
This week, Microsoft led an investment round of more than $2 billion in Cruise, the AV company majority-owned by GM and also backed by Honda, which takes the self-driving developer’s valuation to $30 billion. The Wall Street Journal reports that under the terms of the deal, Cruise will use Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service to deploy its self-driving services, with analysts noting that autonomous vehicles are expected to generate vast amounts of data for operators to capture, store and eventually monetize. In a tweet, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said he wanted to use his company’s cloud technology “to make autonomous transportation mainstream,” with Cruise CEO Dan Ammann adding that Microsoft “will be a force multiplier for us as we commercialize our fleet of self-driving, all-electric, shared vehicles.”