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How a Self-Driving Uber Killed a Pedestrian in Arizona

A woman was struck and killed on Sunday night by an autonomous car operated by Uber in Tempe, Ariz. It was believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology.

What We Know About the Accident

N. Mill Avenue

Moeur Park

N. Mill Avenue

Marquee Theatre

Body seen in this area

Elaine Herzberg was struck while walking her bike across the street somewhere in this area.

The self-driving Uber was traveling north at about 40 m.p.h.

N. Mill Avenue

N. Mill Avenue

Moeur Park

Body seen in this area

Elaine Herzberg was struck while walking her bike across the street somewhere in this area.

The self-driving Uber was traveling north at about 40 m.p.h.

N. Mill Avenue

N. Mill Avenue

Moeur Park

Body seen in this area

The self-driving Uber was traveling north at about 40 m.p.h.

Elaine Herzberg was struck while walking her bike across the street somewhere in this area.

N. Mill Avenue

N. Mill Avenue

Moeur Park

Body seen in this area

Elaine Herzberg was struck while walking her bike across the street somewhere in this area.

The self-driving Uber was traveling north at about 40 m.p.h.

The car, a Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle outfitted with a sensor system, was in autonomous mode when it struck Elaine Herzberg around 10 p.m. on Sunday. There was a human safety driver at the wheel, but the car was carrying no passengers.

The vehicle was going about 40 miles an hour on a street with a 45-mile-an-hour speed limit when it struck Ms. Herzberg, 49, who was walking her bicycle across the street, according to the Tempe police.

Authorities on Wednesday released portions of a dashboard camera recording from the vehicle, which showed the exterior and interior of the car moments before the accident.

Source: Tempe Police Department

The video shows that the safety driver, identified by police as Rafael Vasquez, was clearly distracted and looking down from the road.

It also appears that both of the safety driver’s hands were not hovering above the steering wheel, which is what most backup drivers are instructed to do because it allows them to take control of the car quickly in the case of an emergency.

Earlier in the week, police officials said the driver was not impaired and had cooperated with authorities. The self-driving car, however, should have detected the woman crossing the road.

Like many self-driving cars, Uber equips its vehicles with lidar sensors — an acronym for light detection and ranging systems — to help the car detect the world around it. One of the positive attributes of Lidar is that it is supposed to work well at night when it is dark, detecting objects from hundreds of feet away.

news-photo.jpg

Ms. Herzberg’s damaged bicycle lay on the sidewalk near the self-driving Uber, which was damaged on its front right side. ABC-15, via Associated Press

The accident was a reminder that self-driving technology is still in the experimental stage, as Silicon Valley giants, major automakers and other companies race to develop vehicles that can drive on their own. Governments, for their part, are still trying to figure out how to regulate the technology, and a patchwork of rules are in place around the country.

Uber’s self-driving program first started in Pittsburgh in September 2016, and extended to Tempe in February 2017. The Arizona city was considered an ideal place to test autonomous vehicles because of its favorable weather and wide roads.

After Sunday’s crash, Uber quickly suspended the program in Arizona, as well as in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

“The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones,” Matt Kallman, a spokesman for Uber, said Wednesday. “Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”

The Tempe police said it was still investigating the crash.

Ms. Herzberg’s death was not the first involving self-driving technology.

In 2016, a man in Florida was killed while at the wheel of a Tesla while using its Autopilot feature, which uses a computer vision-based vehicle detection system that differs from the technology used by Uber. Federal investigators later ruled that the system was not at fault in the crash.

How a Self-Driving Car Works

LIDAR UNIT

Constantly spinning, it uses laser beams to generate a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings.

Use parallax from multiple images to find the distance to various objects. Cameras also detect traffic lights and signs, and help recognize moving objects like pedestrians and bicyclists.

RADAR SENSORS

Measure the distance from the car to obstacles.

ADDITIONAL

LIDAR UNITS

MAIN COMPUTER (LOCATED IN TRUNK)

Analyzes data from the sensors, and compares its stored maps to assess current conditions.

LIDAR UNIT

Constantly spinning, it uses laser beams to generate a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings.

Use parallax from multiple images to find the distance to various objects. Cameras also detect traffic lights and signs, and help recognize moving objects like pedestrians and bicyclists.

RADAR SENSORS

Measure the distance from the car to obstacles.

MAIN COMPUTER

(LOCATED IN TRUNK)

ADDITIONAL

LIDAR UNITS

Analyzes data from the sensors, and compares its stored maps to assess current conditions.

LIDAR UNIT

Constantly spinning, it uses laser beams to generate a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings.

Use parallax from multiple images to find the distance to various objects. Cameras also detect traffic lights and signs, and help recognize moving objects like pedestrians and bicyclists.

RADAR SENSORS

Measure the distance from the car to obstacles.

MAIN COMPUTER

(LOCATED IN TRUNK)

Analyzes data from the sensors, and compares its stored maps to assess current conditions.

ADDITIONAL

LIDAR UNITS

LIDAR UNIT

Constantly spinning, it uses laser beams to generate a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings.

Use parallax from multiple images to find the distance to various objects. Cameras also detect traffic lights and signs, and help recognize moving objects like pedestrians and bicyclists.

MAIN COMPUTER (LOCATED IN TRUNK)

Analyzes data from the sensors, and compares its stored maps to assess current conditions.

RADAR SENSORS

Measure the distance from the car to various obstacles.

ADDITIONAL LIDAR UNITS

By Guilbert Gates | Source: Google | Note: Car is a Lexus model modified by Google. Uber’s sensing system uses similar technology.

There are a few different types of technologies that are used in autonomous driving systems. Uber and Waymo, which was spun off from Google, use lidar and radar technology, along with computer vision, to help guide the vehicle.

A self-driving car’s sensors gather data on nearby objects, like their size and rate of speed. It categorizes the objects — as cyclists, pedestrians or other cars and objects — based on how they are likely to behave.

Red boxes: cyclists

Yellow boxes: pedestrians

Pink boxes:

vehicles

Green “fences”:

locations where

the car may need

to slow down

Red “fences”:

locations where the car

will need to stop

Red boxes: cyclists

Yellow boxes: pedestrians

Pink boxes:

vehicles

Green “fences”:

locations where

the car may need

to slow down

Red “fences”:

locations where the car

will need to stop

Red boxes: cyclists

Yellow boxes:

pedestrians

Pink boxes:

vehicles

Green “fences”:

locations where

the car may need

to slow down

Red “fences”:

locations where the car

will need to stop

Pink boxes:

vehicles

Red boxes:

cyclists

Yellow boxes:

pedestrians

Red “fences”:

locations where the car

will need to stop

Green “fences”:

locations where the car

may need to slow down

Source: Google

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California Scraps Safety Driver Rules for Self-Driving Cars

The new regulations in Silicon Valley’s home state are expected to help the wider deployment of autonomous vehicles.

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Uber and Waymo Settle Trade Secrets Suit Over Driverless Cars

But Waymo — which was spun out from Google in late 2016 — claimed the deal was part of a plan to steal its laser-sensor technology, a key component for operating self-driving cars. Mr. Levandowski had begun talking with Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive at the time, about the possibility of working together on autonomous-vehicle technology while he was still employed at Google, according to evidence presented at the trial.

Mr. Levandowski was accused of downloading thousands of Google files related to self-driving car technology before he left the company. Uber learned about what he had done but still went ahead with the deal, Waymo claimed. That was the basis of Waymo’s claim that Uber had misappropriated eight trade secrets related mainly to lidar — an abbreviation for “light detection and ranging” — sensors that help self-driving cars see the world around them.

The first few days of the trial revealed a number of embarrassing details connecting Uber with Mr. Levandowski. However, Waymo had yet to deliver on the substantive legal part of the argument that Uber knowingly stole Waymo’s trade secrets for use in its products. The judge, William Alsup, admonished Waymo’s lawyers on Wednesday for not having made much progress on its trade secret misappropriation claims.

Before the trial started, Uber offered to settle with Waymo in exchange for 0.68 percent of the company’s equity, or about $500 million, but its board of directors pulled the offer and allowed Mr. Kalanick to testify, according to two people familiar with Uber’s thinking who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

After testimony on Thursday, settlement talks restarted, and Uber offered the lower percentage, these people said. For Waymo, the financial terms were not as important as scoring concessions on not using Waymo’s technology, said a person familiar with Waymo’s deliberations who was not authorized to discuss them.

The settlement included an agreement that none of Waymo’s confidential information was being incorporated in Uber’s autonomous vehicle technology.

After almost a decade of work on self-driving cars, the Uber stake may be the first substantial money that Waymo has made from the technology. Alphabet was already a major investor in Uber through its venture capital arm, GV. It has also made a billion-dollar investment in Uber’s main rival in the United States, Lyft.

Although it settled the lawsuit, Waymo’s court fight may have succeeded in embarrassing a rival while delivering a unspoken warning to former and current employees to be cautious about leaving the company with know-how developed there. It also struck a deal before Larry Page, Alphabet’s chief executive, who rarely speaks in public, had to testify in court next week.

Waymo’s lawyers presented evidence that entertained the throngs of technology reporters gathered to cover the trial including texts and emails between Mr. Levandowski and Mr. Kalanick using chest-puffing terms like “burn the village” and “second place is first” loser. There were also pictures of notes on whiteboards from a brainstorming “jam sesh” led by Mr. Kalanick, declaring, among other things, that “laser is the sauce.”

The settlement helps resolve one of Uber’s many lingering issues from Mr. Kalanick’s tumultuous time as chief executive, which ended in June. His successor, Dara Khosrowshahi, has said he hopes to change the perception that Uber has been too quick to break rules.

The settlement also clears away a significant legal risk as Uber prepares for an expected initial public offering. It is still dealing with a Department of Justice investigation into its business practices. Although the company insists it did not take any Waymo trade secrets, Mr. Khosrowshahi said in a statement that he regretted the events that led to the litigation.

“My job as Uber’s C.E.O. is to set the course for the future of the company: innovating and growing responsibly, as well as acknowledging and correcting mistakes of the past,” he said in the statement. “The prospect that a couple of Waymo employees may have inappropriately solicited others to join Otto, and that they may have potentially left with Google files in their possession, in retrospect, raised some hard questions.”

Mr. Kalanick released a statement that was not nearly as conciliatory.

“No trade secrets ever came to Uber,” the statement said. “The evidence at trial overwhelmingly proved that, and had the trial proceeded to its conclusion, it is clear Uber would have prevailed.”

The loser in the legal proceeding may be Mr. Levandowski, who was fired by Uber over his refusal to cooperate with the company’s defense. An Uber spokesman, Matt Kallman, said the company had fired Mr. Levandowski in May before Otto could meet any of its performance targets. As a result, he lost out on an estimated $250 million worth of equity in Uber — almost exactly how much Uber paid Waymo.

Judge Alsup referred Mr. Levandowski’s case to the Justice Department, although it was not clear whether a criminal case was being pursued against him. Mr. Levandowski, who received a $120 million bonus for his work on Google’s self-driving car, was expected to refuse to answer questions if he had taken the stand as scheduled next week.

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Secrets or Knowledge? Uber-Waymo Trial Tests Silicon Valley Culture

“Figuring out what’s on one side of the line and what’s on other side is incredibly complicated,” she said.

What Waymo is arguing

TRADE SECRETS. Waymo has accused Uber of colluding with Anthony Levandowski — an early engineer on Google’s self-driving car team who left the company in January 2016 — to steal information about the project. Waymo’s legal argument relies on a less-traveled area of intellectual property law: trade secrets.

Unlike publicly filed patents, trade secrets are, well, secret. They are defined as valuable information that is not generally known and is protected by the company from getting out, like the recipe for Coca-Cola. But because trade secrets can be hard to define, they raise questions about the line between an employee’s skill or knowledge versus intellectual property belonging to an employer.

R&D. Waymo, which started under the Google banner before being spun off as a separate entity, spent years and more than $1 billion on research and development of driverless cars. The technology was so new when Waymo entered the field in 2009 that it had to devise everything from the ground up, including what sensors to use, how to move sensor data into software and how to test it all.

It was a long and tedious process requiring much experimentation to see what worked and what didn’t. Some of those lessons are still considered valuable and closely guarded secrets at Waymo — secrets the company says Uber would have to tap into to meet the ambitious financial targets it has set for Mr. Levandowski.

LIDAR. Waymo has said Uber misappropriated eight of its trade secrets, most of them having to do with lidar — an abbreviation for “light detection and ranging” — devices that measure distances using lasers. Such sensors are critical in the operation of autonomous vehicles. One of the eight secrets was a so-called “negative trade secret” — a term for a valuable lesson about what does and doesn’t work that was learned through time-consuming trial and error.

What Uber is arguing

TRADE SECRETS. Uber says that what Waymo claims are trade secrets actually aren’t. Uber is expected to argue it developed all of its autonomous vehicle technology and know-how independently and that the information Waymo claims are trade secrets are generally known or ascertainable by Uber’s own experts.

It is a position that is fitting with the start-up spirit of Silicon Valley, where engineers move freely from company to company, taking what they know with them. A free flow of ideas and personnel can open the door to claims of theft or copying, but technologists often look down on companies that resort to legal action to kneecap a competitor.

CHANGING JOBS. In a pretrial proceeding with lawyers for Uber and Waymo, Judge William Alsup, who will preside over the trial in federal court, pressed them on how to protect the rights of engineers to advance their careers elsewhere if their former employers designate “everything in the universe” as a trade secret. He cited a hypothetical example of an engineer who learned the best way of doing something through trial and error.

When that engineer moves to another company and is assigned that same task, will that person need to “reinvent the wheel” and go through all the experiments again to make sure they are not using a former employer’s trade secrets? “Is an engineer really supposed to get a frontal lobotomy before they go to the next job? I think the answer has to be no,” Judge Alsup said.

KEEPING SECRETS. Uber’s lawyers are expected to argue that even if the knowledge amounted to trade secrets, it was not misappropriated, because — among other reasons — Waymo didn’t do enough to keep its secrets secret. Besides, Uber can point out that it didn’t benefit from any potential trade secrets because autonomous vehicles are still in development.

Uber will do its best to distance itself from Mr. Levandowski, who was in charge of the ride-hailing company’s autonomous vehicle team when he was fired in May 2017 for refusing to cooperate with its legal defense. Uber has said it repeatedly told Mr. Levandowski not to bring along any Google intellectual property after it bought Ottomotto, the company he started after leaving Google. Uber insists any computer files that Mr. Levandowski may have possessed from his time at Google never reached its computer servers.

Anthony Levandowski: A bender of rules?

For all the philosophical arguments about trade secrets and the role they may play in Silicon Valley’s labor mobility, this case might boil down to the actions of Mr. Levandowski. His willingness to bend the rules seems extreme even by Silicon Valley’s standards.

Waymo claims — and Uber does not dispute – that Mr. Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files before leaving Google and receiving a $120 million bonus from his former employer. At the time, he was already meeting regularly with Uber and Travis Kalanick, the company’s then-chief executive, and had not officially founded his own firm, Ottomotto. Mr. Levandowski is not a defendant in the suit.

In a deposition in July, Larry Page, chief executive of Alphabet, the parent company of Google and Waymo, was asked about the decision to pay Mr. Levandowski a massive bonus. Mr. Page acknowledged that Mr. Levandowski had played “a significant role” in the history of the project, but was a headache for management by the time he left.

When Uber announced the acquisition of Ottomotto for a reported $680 million, Mr. Levandowski had already been consulting with Uber for months. Even during his nine-month stint with the ride-hailing company, Mr. Levandowski demonstrated a willingness to push the envelope when he defied state regulators and forged ahead with autonomous vehicle testing on the streets of San Francisco.

When called to testify, Mr. Levandowski is expected to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. He hasn’t cooperated with Uber’s lawyers, and Judge Alsup has referred Mr. Levandowski to the federal prosecutors for possible theft of trade secrets. While it’s not clear whether the Department of Justice is investigating his actions, federal investigators confirmed that it was looking into Uber’s business practices.

After he was fired, Mr. Levandowski announced that he would start a religion worshiping a Godhead based on artificial intelligence.

“Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it,” reads the passage on the website for “Way of the Future,” the religion founded by Mr. Levandowski.

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Tech Giants Are Paying Huge Salaries for Scarce A.I. Talent

The cutting edge of artificial intelligence research is based on a set of mathematical techniques called deep neural networks. These networks are mathematical algorithms that can learn tasks on their own by analyzing data. By looking for patterns in millions of dog photos, for example, a neural network can learn to recognize a dog. This mathematical idea dates back to the 1950s, but it remained on the fringes of academia and industry until about five years ago.

By 2013, Google, Facebook and a few other companies started to recruit the relatively few researchers who specialized in these techniques. Neural networks now help recognize faces in photos posted to Facebook, identify commands spoken into living-room digital assistants like the Amazon Echo and instantly translate foreign languages on Microsoft’s Skype phone service.

Using the same mathematical techniques, researchers are improving self-driving cars and developing hospital services that can identify illness and disease in medical scans, digital assistants that can not only recognize spoken words but understand them, automated stock-trading systems and robots that pick up objects they’ve never seen before.

With so few A.I. specialists available, big tech companies are also hiring the best and brightest of academia. In the process, they are limiting the number of professors who can teach the technology.

Uber hired 40 people from Carnegie Mellon’s groundbreaking A.I. program in 2015 to work on its self-driving-car project. Over the last several years, four of the best-known A.I. researchers in academia have left or taken leave from their professorships at Stanford University. At the University of Washington, six of 20 artificial intelligence professors are now on leave or partial leave and working for outside companies.

“There is a giant sucking sound of academics going into industry,” said Oren Etzioni, who is on leave from his position as a professor at the University of Washington to oversee the nonprofit Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Some professors are finding a way to compromise. Luke Zettlemoyer of the University of Washington turned down a position at a Google-run Seattle laboratory that he said would have paid him more than three times his current salary (about $180,000, according to public records). Instead, he chose a post at the Allen Institute that allowed him to continue teaching.

Photo

Artificial intelligence fueled a computer’s victory over Lee Se-dol, a world champion in the game of Go, in the Google DeepMind Challenge Match last year. Credit Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“There are plenty of faculty that do this, splitting their time in various percentages between industry and academia,” Mr. Zettlemoyer said. “The salaries are so much higher in industry, people only do this because they really care about being an academian.”

To bring in new A.I. engineers, companies like Google and Facebook are running classes that aim to teach “deep learning” and related techniques to existing employees. And nonprofits like Fast.ai and companies like Deeplearning.ai, founded by a former Stanford professor who helped create the Google Brain lab, offer online courses.

The basic concepts of deep learning are not hard to grasp, requiring little more than high-school-level math. But real expertise requires more significant math and an intuitive talent that some call “a dark art.” Specific knowledge is needed for fields like self-driving cars, robotics and health care.

In order to keep pace, smaller companies are looking for talent in unusual places. Some are hiring physicists and astronomers who have the necessary math skills. Other start-ups from the United States are looking for workers in Asia, Eastern Europe and other locations where wages are lower.

“I can’t compete with Google, and I don’t want to,” said Chris Nicholson, the chief executive and a co-founder of Skymind, a start-up in San Francisco that has hired engineers in eight countries. “So I offer very attractive salaries in countries that undervalue engineering talent.”

But the industry’s giants are doing much the same. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others have opened A.I. labs in Toronto and Montreal, where much of this research outside the United States is being done. Google also is hiring in China, where Microsoft has long had a strong presence.

Not surprisingly, many think the talent shortage won’t be alleviated for years.

“Of course demand outweighs supply. And things are not getting better any time soon,” Yoshua Bengio, a professor at the University of Montreal and a prominent A.I. researcher, said. “It takes many years to train a Ph.D.”

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In Power Move at Uber, Travis Kalanick Appoints 2 to Board

Because of the proposal to reduce voting rights, it is “essential that the full board be in place for proper deliberation to occur,” Mr. Kalanick said in a statement.

In its own statement, Uber said Mr. Kalanick’s move “came as a complete surprise to Uber and its board.” That is why, it added, the company is “working to put in place world-class governance.”

The moves underscore the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between Uber and Mr. Kalanick, the company’s co-founder. Mr. Kalanick stepped down as chief executive after some of Uber’s investors said he could not remain. Since then, the former chief, who holds a seat on Uber’s board, has battled with other board members, including Benchmark, a venture capital firm that was an early investor in the company.

Benchmark had previously contended that Mr. Kalanick had too much power over Uber and had sued him in an attempt to reduce that control. That suit has been moved to arbitration, allowing Mr. Kalanick to keep his fight with Benchmark — and any potentially damaging disclosures — out of public view. Benchmark declined to comment on Friday.

Photo

Ursula Burns, a former chief executive of Xerox, is one of Mr. Kalanick’s new appointees to the Uber board of directors. Credit Scott Olson/Getty Images

The back-and-forth also presents a problem for Mr. Khosrowshahi, who has to deal with a deeply divided board. Mr. Khosrowshahi had already had a taste of Uber’s ups and downs in recent days, when the company was told that it would lose its operating license for London, one of the biggest cities where it does business.

The power plays on Uber’s board are centered on a move made by Mr. Kalanick last year that allowed him to obtain outsize control of several board seats. At the time, he got Benchmark to approve an amendment to the company’s charter that gave him the right to nominate three new directors to add to Uber’s eight-member board. Mr. Kalanick occupies one of those seats, and he has contended that he gets the right to fill the other two seats.

To prevent Mr. Kalanick from exercising that right, Uber and Goldman Sachs proposed on Thursday to reduce his voting rights. If approved, the proposal would also reduce voting power for other early Uber shareholders and board members, including Benchmark, Lowercase Capital and Menlo Ventures.

Photo

John Thain, a former chief executive of Merrill Lynch and the New York Stock Exchange, was also added to the board by Mr. Kalanick. Credit Rob Kim/Getty Images

Uber is also negotiating a sale of some of its existing shares to new investors, including the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank. Goldman Sachs is also one of the financial firms that is managing Uber’s potential share sale to SoftBank.

The fight over voting speaks to the balance of power at young Silicon Valley start-ups. In recent years, entrepreneurs have asked for — and been given — more voting rights by venture capitalists and other investors who are eager to get into a hot deal. Other companies, like Snap and Facebook, also have structures that allow their founders to hold disproportionate voting power.

These sorts of bare-knuckle fights usually unfold behind the scenes in venture capital, where investors and founders have incentives to maintain a positive public persona. Entrepreneurs start companies more than once, and have to tap the same pool of firms for money over time. And the firms need to be perceived as founder friendly in order to cozy up to the most promising deals.

Mr. Kalanick’s two new appointees are well known in the business world. As chief executive of Xerox, Ms. Burns was the first African-American woman to run a Fortune 500 company. Ms. Burns, 59, received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University and worked at Xerox her entire career, beginning as an intern in 1980 and becoming the head of the company in 2009.

Mr. Thain, 62, was one of Wall Street’s best-known figures until the financial crisis hit Wall Street in 2008. He became the head of the New York Stock Exchange in 2004, then the chief executive of Merrill Lynch in 2007. He sold the firm to Bank of America during the financial crisis and was later chief executive of CIT Group, a lender to small and midsize businesses, until he retired in 2015.

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Uber Founder Travis Kalanick Resigns as C.E.O.

Uber’s board said in a statement that Mr. Kalanick had “always put Uber first” and that his stepping down as chief executive would give the company “room to fully embrace this new chapter in Uber’s history.” An Uber spokesman declined to comment further.

The move caps months of questions over the leadership of Uber, which has become a prime example of Silicon Valley start-up culture gone awry. The company has been exposed this year as having a workplace culture that included sexual harassment and discrimination, and it has pushed the envelope in dealing with law enforcement and even partners. That tone was set by Mr. Kalanick, who has aggressively turned the company into the world’s dominant ride-hailing service and upended the transportation industry around the globe.

Video

Uber Investigation Leads to Shake-Up

An investigation into Uber’s troubled company culture has led to changes in leadership. The chief executive has taken a leave of absence and several others have been fired over the past two weeks.

By NEETI UPADHYE on Publish Date June 14, 2017. Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

Mr. Kalanick’s troubles began earlier this year after a former Uber engineer detailed what she said was sexual harassment at the company, opening the floodgates for more complaints and spurring internal investigations. In addition, Uber has been dealing with an intellectual property lawsuit from Waymo, the self-driving car business that operates under Google’s parent company, and a federal inquiry into a software tool that Uber used to sidestep some law enforcement.

Uber has been trying to move past its difficult history, which has grown inextricably tied to Mr. Kalanick. In recent months, Uber has fired more than 20 employees after an investigation into the company’s culture, embarked on major changes to professionalize its workplace, and is searching for new executives including a chief operating officer.

Mr. Kalanick last week said he would take an indefinite leave of absence from Uber, partly to work on himself and to grieve for his mother, who died last month in a boating accident. He said Uber’s day-to-day management would fall to a committee of more than 10 executives.

But the shareholder letter indicated that his taking time off was not enough for some investors who have pumped millions of dollars into the ride-hailing company, which has seen its valuation swell to nearly $70 billion. For them, Mr. Kalanick had to go.

Our Previous Uber Coverage

The five shareholders who demanded Mr. Kalanick’s resignation include some of the technology industry’s most prestigious venture capital firms, which invested in Uber at an early stage of the company’s life, as well as a mutual fund firm. Apart from Benchmark, they are First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital, Menlo Ventures and Fidelity Investments, which together own more than a quarter of Uber’s stock. Because some of the investors hold a type of stock that endows them with an outsize number of votes, they have about 40 percent of Uber’s voting power.

Benchmark, Lowercase, First Round, Menlo Ventures and Fidelity did not respond to requests for comment.

But on Twitter, Mr. Gurley of Benchmark, one of the earliest supporters of Mr. Kalanick at Uber, said of the executive, “There will be many pages in the history books devoted to @travisk — very few entrepreneurs have had such a lasting impact on the world.”

Mr. Kalanick’s resignation opens questions of who may take over Uber, especially since the company has been so molded in his image. And Mr. Kalanick will probably remain a presence there since he still retains control of a majority of Uber’s voting shares.

Taking a start-up chief executive to task so publicly is relatively unusual in Silicon Valley, where investors often praise entrepreneurs and their aggressiveness, especially if their companies are growing fast. It is only when those start-ups are in a precarious position or are declining that shareholders move to protect their investment.

In the case of Uber — one of the most highly valued private companies in the world — investors could lose billions of dollars if the company were to be marked down in valuation.

Uber, which has raised more than $14 billion from investors since its founding in 2009, has a wide base of shareholders apart from the ones who signed the letter. Uber’s investors also include TPG Capital, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, mutual fund giants like BlackRock and wealthy clients of firms like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

In the letter, in addition to Mr. Kalanick’s immediate resignation, the five shareholders asked for improved oversight of the company’s board by filling two of three empty board seats with “truly independent directors.” They also demanded that Mr. Kalanick support a board-led search committee for a new chief executive and that Uber immediately hire an experienced chief financial officer.

Mr. Kalanick is stepping down as Uber works to improve its relationships with some of its constituencies. Earlier Tuesday, the company emailed its drivers, who work as contractors, to let them know they would soon be allowed to take tips, which drivers had not been able to accept previously. The tipping change was among several new initiatives announced for drivers.

“Over the next 180 days we are committed to making driving with Uber better than ever,” the company said. “We know there’s a long road ahead, but we won’t stop until we get there.”

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State of the Art: One Way to Fix Uber: Think Twice Before Using It

In the United States, its rival Lyft has been growing its market share — and that growth has fueled a huge haul of fund-raising — but it still remains a distant second in the market. And remember, this is a supposedly hobbled Uber, one plagued by internal strife, an exodus of executives, a rapidly deteriorating brand and an existential lawsuit stemming from the shady origins of its purchase of a self-driving car start-up.

But what Uber lacks in autonomous tech it makes up for in autonomous customers. No matter what it does, a lot of us just can’t seem to quit Uber. I’m not judging. I used Uber a dozen times in the past month, including three times last week. I use it for the same reason you do — it works really well.

Across many cities in the United States, Uber is one of the cheapest, safest, most convenient ways to get around. In many parts of the world, Uber is even more than that. This year, I met drivers in India who said the company had significantly improved their lives.

And many transportation scholars are giddy over Uber’s potential. They say it could improve congestion and expand access to transportation to the poor and people with disabilities. It could reduce our dependence on private cars, the most expensive, dangerous and inefficient machines we buy. It could become a catalyst for public transportation systems — a way to solve the “last-mile problem” that bedevils commuter trains — or perhaps a replacement for them: What if, instead of building fixed bus lines, cities subsidized Uber rides, allowing people the flexibility of car travel for the price of a bus?

Yet while it’s plausible that a generic car-sharing company could become such a global force for good, the whole idea begins to seem naïve when you start talking about Uber specifically. In addition to the internal recklessness cited in Mr. Holder’s report, this is a company that has repeatedly deceived, threatened, defied or simply ignored regulators and the press. It has systematically mistreated its drivers. (It has promised to address their concerns in a coming report.)

Even riders aren’t safe from its misbehavior. Last week, the technology news website Recode reported that an Uber executive, Eric Alexander, conducted his own investigation after an Uber passenger in India was raped by a driver in 2014. Mr. Alexander obtained the victim’s medical records, and he shared them with other Uber officials, including Mr. Kalanick. The executives reportedly even wondered whether the victim’s story was a conspiracy cooked up by Uber’s Indian rival, Ola.

In April, when my colleague Mike Isaac asked Uber about the executives’ conspiracy theory, Mr. Alexander denied it through a spokesman. That was a lie, but Mr. Alexander was fired only last week after other reporters began asking. Uber declined to comment.

If you can’t trust a company to respect your medical records when you report a rape on its service — and can’t expect that its executives will tell the truth when confronted about it — how could we begin to trust it on some of the loftier civic goals it and its boosters outline?

We can’t, obviously. Instead, it’s your job and mine to verify. Uber says it’s going to make its workplace more inclusive. It will abandon many of its brash cultural values. Its war room will become a peace room (literally). It will become Uber 2.0.

We should all hope it does. But we should do more than hope: There’s an Uber app on your phone. Think twice about tapping it, because if Uber remains terrible after this, we have only ourselves to blame.

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Uber Weighs Leave of Absence for Chief Executive

Any reduction of his involvement in Uber — even if temporary — would be significant, given that he molded the ride-hailing service in his own brash image. Mr. Kalanick has faced particular scrutiny in recent months as Uber has worked to overcome scandals, including employees detailing sexual harassment and systematic attempts to evade law enforcement personnel in some cities.

The discussions by the nine-member board preceded a report from Mr. Holder’s investigation, scheduled to be released on Tuesday. In recent months, Uber has fired more than 20 employees for infractions including sexual harassment and discrimination.

“This starts at the very top,” said Micah Alpern, a principal at A. T. Kearney, a top management and consulting firm. “They need to start from scratch to create a new culture entirely.”

Uber declined to comment on the company discussions, which were held at the Los Angeles offices of Covington & Burling, the law firm where Mr. Holder works. Mr. Kalanick, through a spokesman, declined to comment. News of the discussions was previously reported by Reuters.

The internal drama at Uber has gripped the broader technology industry, as the ride-hailing company has come to symbolize how start-up culture can go awry. Yet even in Silicon Valley, where propriety can take a back seat to profits, the claims about Uber’s corporate culture have been startling, including widespread sexual harassment and the mishandling of the medical records of a woman raped by an Uber driver.

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Uber Investigation Leads to Shake-Up

An investigation into Uber’s troubled company culture has led to changes in leadership. The chief executive has taken a leave of absence and several others have been fired over the past two weeks.

By NEETI UPADHYE on Publish Date June 14, 2017. Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

Uber’s current crisis stems from claims in February from a former engineer, Susan Fowler, that she had been routinely sexually harassed when she worked at the company and that the human resources department had done little to help her. An outpouring of other cases followed, and Uber retained at least two law firms — including Covington & Burling — to look into the matters.

Uber has since faced other problems, including an intellectual property dispute over self-driving car technology with Waymo, the self-driving car business that operates under Google’s parent company. Uber also is dealing with a Justice Department investigation into tools that it used to evade law enforcement personnel in cities where the authorities were trying to shut down its ride-hailing service. Many executives have left the company in recent months.

Even so, Mr. Kalanick’s position has for months seemed secure, especially because of how the company is structured. Uber’s board follows a “founder-friendly” governance structure, made popular in Silicon Valley by Google and Facebook. Seven of Uber’s nine board members hold so-called super-voting shares, allowing them to have a stronger say in the board room. Four director seats are empty.

Because Mr. Kalanick and a few allies hold a majority of those shares, his position has been safe — and would most likely remain so, even if he took a leave.

Some Uber board members have expressed support for Mr. Kalanick. Garrett Camp and Ryan Graves, who have been with Uber since its early days, have long believed that Mr. Kalanick’s leadership was necessary to buck an aggressive incumbent taxi industry. Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post who is also an Uber board member, has publicly attested to Mr. Kalanick’s willingness to change.

J. William Gurley and David Bonderman, two venture capitalists and independent board members who also hold super-voting shares, were worried about the company’s management, the people with knowledge of the matter said. Outside investors were also nervous about the string of scandals and have called board members directly about their concerns.

Mr. Kalanick’s executive allies were in a trickier position. One of the recommendations in Mr. Holder’s report was that Mr. Michael, Uber’s senior vice president of business and a close confidant of Mr. Kalanick’s, be asked to leave the company, according to the three people. The firm’s recommendations also include other sweeping changes at the company.

Mr. Michael has not resigned, nor has he been asked to do so, according to a person familiar with the matter, but he was evaluating his options.

This year, Uber’s general counsel and some board members recommended that Mr. Michael take leave from his position at the company until the results of the Holder report were delivered, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Michael, who has been at the center of three controversies at Uber, refused to step down, and Mr. Kalanick did not force him to do so.

Mr. Michael did not respond to a request for comment.

Employees and close watchers of the company worry that even the most damning conclusions of the Holder investigation could be ignored.

“Any response without complete buy-in from the top is a complete waste of time,” said Stephen Hirschfeld, a partner at the labor law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer who regularly investigates corporate harassment issues. “It can have an even worse impact on company morale if people already know it’s a total joke.”

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