Google’s parent company Alphabet has accused Uber of stealing its self-driving car technology.
Waymo, the self-driving car unit at the tech conglomerate, is taking on Uber and its autonomous trucking subsidiary, Otto. Uber and Otto have been accused of stealing confidential information on Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology to push its own autonomous tech.
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Waymo’s complaint said: “Uber’s Lidar technology is actually Waymo’s Lidar technology.”
When contacted for comment, Uber told Verdict:
“We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”
The tech in question uses light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position on or near the road and is central to autonomous vehicle technology.
These systems don’t come cheap and Waymo has attempted to produce its own Lidar tech that is 90 percent cheaper than previous inceptions.
It believes that Uber’s Otto division is using this technology, one of the Waymo’s most valuable assets, and is clearly very unhappy about it.
Waymo believes Otto has access to this information because one of its previous engineers, Anthony Levandowski, left Waymo to work for Otto in January 2016, seven months before it was acquired by Uber.
Alphabet scrutinised Levandowski’s digital footprint before he left the company, such as his web searches, downloads, which included over 14,000 confidential files such as Lidar circuit board designs, and access to an external hard drive, which is now being used as an intellectual property claim from Alphabet.
The complaint said:
“While Waymo developed its custom LiDAR systems with sustained effort over many years, defendants leveraged stolen information to shortcut the process and purportedly build a comparable LiDAR system in only nine months.”
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Levandowski isn’t the only one implicated in the case — the company alleges other former employees stole trade secrets before moving on to work at Uber and Otto.
Technology is often marred by lawsuits
In December 2016, one of the biggest technology battles was brought to an end.
The five-year battle between Apple and Samsung, which alleged that the South Korean company copied key aspects of the iPhone, finally ended in the US Supreme Court.
The eight justices unanimously threw out the appeals court ruling that said Samsung had to pay a $399m penalty to Apple for copyright infringement.
The decision didn’t reverse the original judgement that stated Samsung had copied Apple however, it meant that a lower court would reassess, and probably reduce, the amount Samsung would have to pay.
There is potential that this Waymo-Uber case could be dragged out over a few years, like the Apple-Samsung case was.
This could hinder innovation of self-driving cars by these two companies, leaving others like Tesla to pick up the slack.
The case could ultimately be more damaging for Uber than search giant Google. Uber has already launched autonomous cars in the likes of Pittsburgh and the Grand Canyon state and this lawsuit could put a stop to any further innovation in this sector of the company.
This is the latest in a long line of issues for the Silicon Valley startup. This week, it was hit with a scandal as a previous employee detailed the sexual harassment she had faced whilst working at the company.
Uber has reportedly hired a former US attorney general to investigate the allegations.