Tesla sues former employees, Zoox for alleged trade secret theft

Tesla has filed a pair of lawsuits against a handful of former employees who went to work at self-driving vehicle startup Zoox and Chinese EV automaker Xiaopeng.

The separate lawsuits filed late Wednesday allege former Tesla employees stole trade secrets and used them at their new places of employment. Tesla declined to comment on either lawsuit.

Zoox and Xiaopeng, also known as XPeng, have not responded to requests for comment. TechCrunch will update this article if either company responds.

While both lawsuits hinge on different trade secrets, they both share certain similarities: allegations of employees taking sensitive and valuable information as they left Tesla.

In one lawsuit, Tesla alleges that Zoox, as well as four former employees, Scott Turner, Sydney Cooper, Christian Dement and Craig Emigh, have made “concerted efforts “to steal Tesla’s proprietary information and trade secrets to help Zoox leapfrog past years of work needed to develop and run its own warehousing, logistics, and inventory control operations.” Tesla called the theft “blatant and intentional.”

Tesla claims in the complaint that the four former employees took “select proprietary Tesla documents useful to their new employer, and at least one of them used Tesla’s confidential information to target other Tesla employees for hiring by Zoox. In the process, they misappropriated Tesla’s trade secrets, violated their agreements with Tesla, and breached their duties of loyalty, all with the knowledge and support of Zoox.”

In a separate case, Tesla alleges former employee Guangzhi Cao, who worked on the company’s Autopilot driver assistance feature, stole source code before abruptly quitting in January and taking a job XPeng. Tesla refers to the company as XMotors in its complaint.

“Tesla’s confidential information is not safe in the hands of XMotors or its employees,” the complaint reads. “Inspired by and on a mission to beat Tesla, XMotors reportedly designed its vehicles around Tesla’s open-source patents and has transparently imitated Tesla’s design, technology, and even its business model. XMotors has also introduced reportedly ‘Autopilot-like’ features (called X-Pilot), and now employs at least five of Tesla’s former Autopilot employees, including Cao.”

Tesla said it has “spent hundreds of millions of dollars” and more than five years developing Autopilot. The company claims that Cao’s action have put that investment at risk.

“Tesla must learn what Cao has done with Tesla’s IP, to whom he has given it, and the extent to which Tesla has been harmed. Tesla files this lawsuit to compel the return of its valuable IP and protect it from further exploitation, and for all other relief as the facts may warrant,” the complaint reads.

This isn’t the first time Tesla or its CEO Elon Musk have filed lawsuits against several employees, some of which have been viewed as acts of retribution. In 2017, Tesla dropped its lawsuit just weeks after its original filing against Sterling Anderson, former director of Autopilot, and Aurora, the self-driving vehicle startup he co-founded, after the two parties reached an agreement.

Tesla filed a lawsuit in December seeking $167 million against former employee Martin Tripp, the former employee whom Musk has referred to as a saboteur. The lawsuit, originally filed in June and seeking just $1 million at the time, alleges Tripp stole confidential and trade secret information, and gave it to third parties.

Tripp filed a formal whistleblower tip to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging Tesla misled investors and put its customers at risk.

Aurora’s Sterling Anderson, Uber ATG’s Raquel Urtasun to discuss self-driving cars and AI at TC Sessions

We’re just weeks away from our TC Sessions: Robotics + AI event at UC Berkeley on April 18.

Some of the best and brightest minds are joining us for the day-long event, including Marc RaibertColin AngleMelonee Wise and Anthony Levandowski . Last week, we added to the list of marquee guests and announced a panel with roboticist Ken Goldberg, who is chief scientist at Ambidextrous Robotics and William S. Floyd Jr Distinguished Chair in Engineering at UC Berkeley, and Michael I. Jordan, the Pehong Chen Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Department of Statistics at UC Berkeley.

Today we’ve got another exciting panel to unveil.

This is the first time artificial intelligence has joined robotics at this TC Sessions event. And what better way to discuss the intersection of AI and robotics than a panel on autonomous vehicle technology.

Today we’re revealing two people who are among the top thinkers focused on autonomous vehicle development: Sterling Anderson, co-founder and chief product officer of Aurora, and Uber ATG Chief scientist Raquel Urtasun

The pair will dig into the self-driving stack and how AI is used to help vehicles understand and predict what’s happening in the world around them and make the right decisions.Sterling Anderson

Sterling Anderson

In the brain trust of self-driving car developers, Anderson is highly regarded. Prior to founding Aurora with Chris Urmson and Drew Bagnell, Anderson was director of Tesla’s Autopilot program. He also led the design, development and launch of the Tesla Model X, an all-electric SUV that launched in 2015.

Anderson has a PhD in Robotics from MIT. After finishing his doctorate at MIT, Anderson founded a startup called Gimlet Systems with another self-driving car pioneer Karl Iagnemma. He also worked at McKinsey & Co.

Raquel Urtasun

Raquel Urtasun

Urtasun, chief scientist and head of Uber ATG Toronto, is also an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto.

Urtasun is a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI. Urtasun is a leading expert in machine perception for self-driving cars. She earned her degree from the computer science department at Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne and postdoc at MIT and UC Berkeley. Her research interests include machine learning, computer vision, robotics and remote sensing.

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Paris to tax scooter and bike services

According to the City of Paris, there are 15,000 free-floating vehicles of all forms and shapes in the city, from electric scooters to fluorescent bikes and motorcycle-like scooters. And the City of Paris announced today that companies that operate free-floating services will have to pay a tax depending on the size of their fleet.

If the plan goes through and if you’re running a bike-sharing service, you’ll have to pay €20 per bike per year. For scooter companies, they’ll pay €50 per scooter per year. Motorcycle scooters will be taxed €60 per scooter per year.

According to Le Parisien, it will be a tier system. Every time you go over the basic tier, you’ll have to pay more. Companies will pay 10 percent more for vehicle No. 500 to vehicle No. 999, 20 percent more for vehicle No. 1,000 to vehicle No. 2,999, and 30 percent more for any vehicle after No. 3,000.

Paris is a tiny city — it’s smaller than San Francisco when it comes to geographical footprint. And it’s also impossible to park a car and drive in Paris. That’s why a vast majority of people who live in Paris don’t own a car. It’s simply much faster and cheaper to use the subway or other transportation methods.

That’s why bikes, scooters and motorcycle scooters are thriving. Having fewer cars on the road is a great thing, but it has created some unexpected challenges.

Bike-sharing services thrived when the city’s bike-sharing system was more or less useless during a network upgrade. GoBee Bike, oBike, Ofo and Mobike all launched their services in the streets of Paris. But they’ve all failed. GoBee Bike shut down, Ofo still has a few bikes but no team, Mobike is scaling back international operations…

That was a bad start for free-floating services, as many broken bikes are littering the streets of Paris. The dock-based bike-sharing system Vélib is now working, fine with more than 1,200 stations and tens of thousands of rides per day — you basically see them everywhere.

On the scooter front, there are now nine companies operating in Paris. Yes, you read that number correctly. They all have funny-sounding names too — Lime, Bird, Bolt, Wind, Tier, Voi, Flash, Hive and Dott.

They’re quite popular because there are a ton of bike lanes in Paris. Most people still don’t wear helmets and there are a lot of injuries — but that’s another issue.

Like many other cities, many people complain about scooters crowding the sidewalk. If you’re in a wheelchair, pushing a stroller or if you’re visually impaired, navigating the sidewalk can be difficult these days.

The City of Paris wants to make those companies accountable. They need to take care of their fleets in order to maximize the number of scooters that actually work and remove the broken scooters. And I’m sure there will be some consolidation and bankruptcies in the space.

When it comes to motorcycle scooters, Cityscoot and Coup have been putting more scooters on the road. There’s no reason they would be excluded from the tax. Sometimes, they are cluttering bike parking space, for instance:

Let’s see if that strategy works to avoid a dumping strategy. Free-floating services have a huge impact on the environment. Scooters only last a few weeks before they need to be replaced. The solution isn’t to throw more scooters at the problem.

Ford will invest $850 million to add more production capacity for EVs

Ford plans to invest more than $850 million to add more production capacity at a second U.S. factory for its next-generation battery electric vehicle program.

The investment, which will be made through 2023, will focus on expanding Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant in southeast Michigan. The plant investment also includes funding to build the next-generation Mustang and is part of a $900 million investment in Ford’s operations in southeastern Michigan.

The announcement is tied to Ford’s larger and previously announced plan to invest $11.1 billion in developing electric vehicles.

Ford’s all-electric performance SUV that’s coming in 2020, will be produced at its its Cuautitlan, Mexico plant. The next-generation of EVs, which will share a flexible architecture, will be produced at Flat Rock.

“We’ve taken a fresh look at the growth rates of electrified vehicles and know we need to protect additional production capacity given our accelerated plans for fully electric vehicles,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations said in a statement. “This is good news for the future of southeast Michigan, delivering more good-paying manufacturing jobs.”

Ford also announced Wednesday it is building its next-generation North American Transit Connect small commercial and passenger van in Mexico, starting in 2021.

Ford’s $11 billion investment will be used to add 16 all-electric vehicles within its global portfolio of 40 electrified vehicles through 2022. At the heart of the company’s electrification effort is its Corktown project, a massive 1.2 million-square-foot space dedicated to its electric and autonomous vehicles businesses.

The goal of Corktown is to create a “mobility corridor” — Ford’s version of its own Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley — that ties hubs of research, testing and development in the academic hub of Ann Arbor to Ford’s Dearborn headquarters, and finally to Detroit.

One of those EVs — and perhaps the most anticipated — will be Mustang-inspired electric crossover that it plans to bring to market in 2020. Ford shared a teaser image last year, depicting a sketch of the vehicle’s backside, which shows a leaning toward the Mustang profile.

The company has also announced plans to offer electrified options in its popular F-Series pickup line.

Postmates’ newest feature is like Uber pool for food delivery

Postmates is launching a new feature called Postmates Party that lets customers within the same neighborhood pool their orders. In return, these customers get the food delivered for free, eliminating a major pinch point for potential Postmates users.

The feature illustrates how Postmates, one of the earlier entrants to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, is trying to remain competitive by appealing to price-sensitive customers.

Customers using the app can tap on the Postmates Party tab, which will show trending merchants that people in their neighborhood are ordering from at that exact moment. By joining the “party,” customers can share the delivery from popular restaurants and get free delivery.

For now, the company’s party feature will only be offered in a handful of the nearly 3,000 U.S. cities it currently operates in. The feature is now available in Chicago, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Calif., Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Orange County, Calif., and Philadelphia.

And there is an important caveat. The party feature has a five-minute time limit in which the customer must place their order to get the deal.

“We are driven by the vision of creating a logistics infrastructure that allows goods to move throughout a city at nearly zero cost to the consumer. Postmates Party is the latest innovation in on-demand delivery that will help us deliver on this vision,” Postmates CEO and co-founder Bastian Lehmann said in a statement. “Postmates Party is a fun way to give customers the option to save money by ordering from popular restaurants that people all around them are ordering from in real time.”

Earlier this year, Postmates raised an additional $100 million in equity funding at a $1.85 billion valuation.The round comes four months after the eight-year-old startup drove home a $300 million investment that knocked it into “unicorn” territory.

TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day session event on the future of transportation

The way people and packages move from Point A to Point B is in the midst of a remarkable transformation driven by technological innovations in AI, robotics, electric battery development, digital platforms and manufacturing.

A mobility revolution is in the making. And TechCrunch is here — and we’re not just along for the ride. We’re here to uncover new ideas and startups, root out vaporware and dig into the tech and people spurring this change.

In short, we’re helping drive the conversation around mobility. And it’s only fitting we dedicate an event to the topic.

TechCrunch is hosting a one-day event on July 10, 2019 in San Jose, Calif., that’s centered around the future of mobility and transportation: TC Sessions: Mobility.

TC Sessions: Mobility will present a day of programming with the best and brightest founders, investors and technologists who are determined to inventing a future Henry Ford might never have imagined. TC Sessions: Mobility aims to do more than highlight the next new thing. We’ll dig into the how and why, the cost and impact to cities, people and companies, as well as the numerous challenges that lie along the way from technological and regulatory to capital and consumer pressures.

Consider changes in the past five years. Automakers are breaking free from the traditional business model of producing and selling vehicles and investing capital and resources into carsharing, ride-hailing, on-demand shuttles and even subscription services. Buying a used car no longer means visiting a dealership; and electric vehicle ownership, driven by Nissan and Tesla and now joined by a bevy of OEMs and startups, is on the rise.

Breakthroughs in AI has prompted large established technology companies, automakers and hundreds of startups to work on autonomous vehicle technology. The rise in e-commerce has Amazon and other startups investing and experimenting with autonomous delivery bots — and on the other spectrum, into self-driving trucks.

Meanwhile, dockless scooters and bikes are flooding cities and startups are popping up to pursue flying taxis and even space tourism. At the center of all of this are people, and the towns and cities they live in.

TC Sessions: Mobility is the latest in TechCrunch’s growing series of Sessions events that feature a deep dive into a specific topic. In the past, TechCrunch has hosted similar events on robotics, the blockchain and social justice. Through intimate interviews and in-depth discussions, attendees of TC Session events hear from the top individuals and companies pushing their respective field forward.

Through the coming weeks, TechCrunch will announce the participants of TechCrunch Mobility’s fireside chats, panels and workshops.


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Uber Freight is expanding into Europe

Uber Freight, the newly spun out Uber business unit that helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, is kicking off its global expansion plans. The company said Wednesday it is launching the app in Europe, starting with the Netherlands.

Local carriers and drivers will be able to book and move their first loads with Uber Freight in the next few weeks, CEO Lior Ron wrote in a blog posted Wednesday. Uber Freight plans to expand to more European countries this year.

The EU and U.S. freight markets have problematic similarities. They’re both huge — the EU truckload market is a $400 billion marketplace and third after China and the U.S. — and inefficient.

“The European trucking market is experiencing a severe shortage of drivers, and of the time drivers are on the road, 21 percent of total kilometers travelled are empty,” Ron wrote. “Inefficiency of this scale results in shippers struggling to find available drivers to move their goods. Additionally, small- to medium-sized carriers in the EU make up more than 85% of the total carrier pool, and just like in other international freight markets, they experience the most difficulty connecting with larger shippers.”

Ron argues that the Uber Freight app has the ability to address these pain points in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Uber Freight has been scaling up its business since launching in May 2017, growing from limited regional operations in Texas to the rest of the continental U.S. The company has offices in San Francisco and Chicago. Uber Freight has launched a series of programs and features since March 2018, including “fleet mode” and Uber Freight Plus, which gives app users access to discounts on services such as fuel, tires and phone plans.

In August, Uber announced that it would make Uber Freight a separate unit and more than double its investment into the business. Since then, the company has redesigned the app, adding new navigation features that make searching for and filtering loads easier to customize and more intuitive as well as other features, including an updated map view and a search bar across the top of the screen.

It’s also made some key hires, one of which intimated the company’s global ambitions. The company hired Andrew Smith, one of Box’s early employees, to head up global sales at Uber Freight, and Bar Ifrach, formerly of Airbnb, to lead its marketplace team, TechCrunch learned last month.

The company has made headway breaking into the U.S. market. The app has been downloaded more than 328,000 times and 12 percent of 350,000 U.S. owner operators have completed the Uber Freight onboarding process, which means they’ve booked or are ready to book a load, the company says. 

Uber Freight had about 30,000 active users last quarter.

Cities are getting more serious about micromobility data

Gone are the days when cities and tech startups are constantly at odds with each other. Passport, a mobility management startup, has partnered with Charlotte, N.C., Detroit, Mich. and Omaha, Neb. to create a framework to apply parking principles, data analysis and more to the plethora of shared micromobility services.

“For many cities, the only option has been to impose bans, fees or permit systems intended to cap the number of scooters allowed on their streets,” Passport CEO Bob Youakim told TechCrunch via email. “While this allows cities to temporarily control scooter deployment, there are greater benefits to achieve by aligning with new mobility providers.”

With Passport, those cities will be able to easily analyze scooter usage, parking patterns and curb utilization. Passport also enables cities to implement real-time curbside pricing and payments and better manage scooter placement. The idea is that cities and mobility providers will work better together if there are economic incentives in place.

“Cities already have a well-established system for charging cars to park on the curb and this same solution should be applied to other modes of transportation,” Youakim said. “By charging scooters to park with usage-based pricing, cities can more effectively manage scooters in their communities and naturally balance supply and demand.”

Passport has also partnered with scooter operator Lime to research ways in which a system of flexible parking charges could replace scooter caps.

“This is a prime example of cities and Lime collaborating to both determine the right fleet size through data and jointly achieve mode shift, sustainability and accessibility objectives,” Lime’s director of Transportation Partnerships said in a statement.

In Detroit, the city outlined its official pilot program last October, capping at 400 the number of scooters each company could deploy. When the scooters first landed in Detroit, they were very concentrated in the greater downtown area, Detroit Chief of Mobility Innovation Mark de la Vergne told TechCrunch via email.

As part of this program, the hope is to continue to increase the availability of scooters in underserved areas, as well as better manage the supply and demand economics.

“I’m very interested to see how these cities can work together to develop a new business/regulatory model that can be scaled nationally,” he said.

In Charlotte, the hope is to learn more about how to implement dynamic pricing and encourage people to wear helmets.

“We will be evaluating how this partnership shapes transportation mobility in Charlotte as it relates to e-scooters,” Charlotte Department of Transportation Deputy Director Dan Gallagher said. “As a city we want to be able to provide our community with the best transportation network that provides access to jobs, education, transit and housing.”