Google’s self-driving-car company is suing Uber, alleging that it stole its technology – Business Insider
Google and Uber started off as friends, then became competitors,
and are now adversaries in a bitter legal fight to control the
future of transportation.
In an explosive lawsuit filed on Thursday, the Google
self-driving-car group, now known as Waymo, accused Uber of using
stolen technology to advance its own autonomous-car development.
The suit, filed in the US District Court in San
Francisco, claims that a team of ex-Google engineers stole the
company’s design for the “lidar” laser sensor that allows
self-driving cars to map the environment around them.
“Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a
secret recipe from a beverage company,” Waymo wrote in
a blog post announcing the suit, which names both Uber and
Otto, a startup Uber acquired, as defendants.
“We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal
Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property,” said Waymo, a
subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
The suit marks the latest escalation in the increasingly
antagonistic relationship between the two tech giants and
reflects the big stakes involved in self-driving-car technology,
which threatens to upend the $70 billion US automotive industry.
“We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees
seriously and we will review this matter carefully,” Uber wrote
in a statement to Business Insider.
A suspicious email
At the center of the suit is Anthony Levandowski, one of
the original members of the team that worked on Google’s
self-driving-car project. In January 2016, Levandowski left
Google after nine years to found Otto, a startup focused on
autonomous trucks. Six months later, Uber acquired Otto in a deal
valued at $680 million.
Waymo alleges that Levandowski “downloaded over 14,000 highly
confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various
hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit
board” six weeks before resigning from Google.
Levandowski installed specialized software on his company laptop
to gain access to Waymo’s design server, Waymo alleges in the
28-page lawsuit. He then downloaded 9.7 GB of highly confidential
files and trade secrets that included blueprints, design files,
and testing documentation, the suit alleges.
Waymo said in the suit that it had learned of the theft after it
was inadvertently copied on an email that included machine
drawings of what appeared to be Uber’s lidar circuit board that
“bears a striking resemblance” to Waymo’s own designs.
Waymo also claims that former employees now working at Uber and
Otto downloaded “additional highly confidential information”
related to its lidar system, including supplier lists,
manufacturing details, and statements of work with highly
Google’s self-driving-car prototypes used third-party laser
sensors made by Velodyne for years. But the company announced in early January that it was
building its own lidar system in-house, which allowed it to
reduce the price of the notoriously expensive system by 90%.
A bumpy history
The lawsuit marks the latest escalation in the bumpy
relationship between the two tech giants.
Waymo; Business Insider/ Skye
Google Ventures invested $250 million in Uber in 2013, when the
ride-hailing service was still in its early years.
But as the two companies business interests began to
overlap, particularly around self-driving cars, the relationship
began to fray. In August, Google executive David Drummond stepped
down from his seat on Uber’s board.
Before stepping down, Drummond, as well as Google Ventures
CEO David Krane, had been shut out of Uber’s board meetings.
Uber, meanwhile, has become one of the most valuable
private technology companies, with a valuation of nearly $70
billion. It has faced a number of challenges in its quest to
build self-driving cars, most famously in December when San
shut down trials of the vehicles in the city because had Uber
failed to obtain the proper permits.
Uber recently began testing the cars in Arizona