Google's Self-Driving Firm Sues Uber For Stealing Technology And Trade Secrets

Google's Self-Driving Firm Sues Uber For Stealing Technology And Trade Secrets

Google's program started almost eight years ago, back when self-driving cars were more a sci-fi project than realistic transportation alternative.

Alphabet created Waymo earlier this year as a way of bringing self-driving technology - which Google has been working on for years - to market.

Similarly, Waymo, formerly Google's self-driving vehicle project, is suing Uber and its newly acquired subsidiary Otto, for patent infringement willfully done by a former Waymo employee. "Instead, Otto and Uber have taken Waymo's intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of independently developing their own technology", the complaint reads.

Levandowski, 36, worked as a manager for the precursor to Google's self-driving-car project Waymo before he left in January 2016 to start the self-driving truck company, Otto. The suit claims that Levandowski stole critical technology related to Waymo's LiDAR sensors shortly before leaving the company in order to start Otto. After six months of official existence, Otto was acquired by Uber for $680 million, and Levandowski was named vice president in charge of Uber's self-driving auto project, according to the complaint.

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Waymo, which began as Google's self-driving project, unveiled the autonomous Chrysler Pacifica hybrid at last month's Detroit Auto Show.

Waymo accuses Levandowski of attempting to hide his activity in the Waymo design server, saying that he installed a new operating system on his company-issued laptop in an attempt to wipe the laptop clean - and that after that activity, he only used the laptop again for a few minutes. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo's highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation.

The suit alleges that a week after downloading the files and after removing a data storage card, Levandowski reformatted the company laptop to erase any trace of what happened to the downloaded data. Waymo also claims this work has driven down the cost of LiDAR dramatically and the configuration is unique to Waymo. He would later found a self-driving truck company named Otto, along with other former Alphabet employees.

"Waymo was recently - and apparently inadvertently - copied on an email from one of its LiDAR component vendors", Waymo stated in the lawsuit. The email attached machine drawings of what purports to be an Uber LiDAR circuit board.

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"This circuit board bears a striking resemblance to Waymo's own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets", the court filing says.

The brewing showdown emerged late Thursday in a lawsuit filed in a San Francisco federal court by Waymo, a once-secretive self-driving company hatched by Google eight years ago. Waymo claims that Otto's "calculated theft" of Alphabet's technology earned Otto's employees more than $500 million.

The Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system plays a crucial role in its self-driving vehicle, which helps in visualising the surrounding world by using lasers that bounce off surrounding objects.

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