Tesla settles lawsuit against ex-Autopilot lead’s self-driving startup Aurora

Tesla has settled a lawsuit it filed against Sterling Anderson, a former employee and past director of Autopilot. Anderson was a key leader of Tesla’s semi-automated highway driving features, prior to leaving the company to found his own self-driving startup, Aurora, along with former Google self-driving car project CTO Chris Urmson.

The settlement clears Aurora and Anderson of wrongdoing, and includes a one-time “reimbursement” payment of $100,000 from the startup to Tesla. Tesla had accused Aurora and Anderson of poaching Tesla employees for the new venture, and the settlement also includes a provision whereby Aurora agreed not to actively pursue luring anyone away from Tesla, either full-time employees or contractors, until at least next February.

Tesla will also be conducting an “audit” of Aurora devices and material, run by a neutral third-party, to ensure no Tesla confidential info resides on Aurora-related devices and accounts.

This is actually a lot of what Tesla was looking for from an ultimate ruling in the case, per their original filing against Anderson, Aurora and Urmson. Tesla provided, through a spokesperson, the following statement to TechCrunch regarding the settlement:

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.

Sterling Anderson provided TechCrunch with this short emailed statement, but also wrote up his thoughts on what this means for his company and self-driving tech in general on Medium:

We started Aurora to accelerate the industry. Frivolous lawsuits only slow it down. Today, less than three months after filing (and before we were permitted to file a response) Tesla has withdrawn their claims, without damages, without attorney’s fees, and without any finding of wrongdoing.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.
Anderson’s note offers additional context regarding that $100,000 payment made by Aurora to Tesla: It covers the cost of a forensic audit, which Anderson is clearly very confident Aurora and its employees will easily pass.