Google Alleges Uber of Stealing Its Self-Driving Car Tech
- Fariha Khan
- February 27, 2017
Alphabet’s self-driving startup, Waymo, is prosecuting Uber, blaming the company of stealing critical autonomous driving technology. In case the suit goes to trial, Apple’s legal combat with Samsung could wind up looking tame in contrast.
Waymo asserts that a former Google employee now at Uber (Anthony Levandowski) downloaded 14,000 files from its hardware systems secretly. He resigned a month after that and then used the information to release a self-driving truck startup called Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016 and put him in charge of its self-driving project.
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The federal civil suit alleges Uber of violating the Defense of Trade Secrets Act and the California Uniform Trade Secret Act, as well as patent breach. However, the case might only be the start of Uber’s tussles.
Uber started that it takes the allegations earnestly and will review the issue with utmost care.
The complaint is deeply precise in its charges, particularly against Levandowski. It charges he downloaded the files, attached an external hard drive to his system, and wiped the computer and barely made use of it after that:
Waymo has uncovered evidence that Anthony Levandowski, a former manager in Waymo’s self-driving car project—now leading the same effort for Uber—downloaded more than 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary files shortly before his resignation. The 14,000 files included a wide range of highly confidential files, including Waymo’s LiDAR circuit board designs. Mr. Levandowski took extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo’s design server and then conceal his activities.
In December 2015, Mr. Levandowski specifically searched for and then installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop in order to access the server that stores these particular files. Once Mr. Levandowski accessed this server, he downloaded the 14,000 files, representing approximately 9.7 GB of highly confidential data. Then he attached an external drive to the laptop for a period of eight hours. He installed a new operating system that would have the effect of reformatting his laptop, attempting to erase any forensic fingerprints that would show what he did with Waymo’s valuable LiDAR designs once they had been downloaded to his computer. After Mr. Levandowski wiped this laptop, he only used it for a few minutes, and then inexplicably never used it again.
According to Waymo, the focus of the technology in question is Lidar that fires off millions of lasers a second to build a detailed map of the world around the car. The company said that it invested millions in its own Lidar hardware to make its self-driving technology reasonable at scale, and that Levandowski brought all that work to Uber. He has built a name for a cavalier approach to rules overall. In December, he claimed Uber’s autonomous cars didn’t have to apply for a special certification under California law and set them loose in San Francisco. The California DMV differed and cancelled the vehicles’ registrations. Now, Waymo’s accusing him of being definitely Snowdenesque.
Waymo and Uber are two of the most prominent players in the race to develop independent driving technology. Waymo has been working on the tech for almost about a decade and has logged over 2 million miles of testing on public roads. In December, the company launched as a standalone company aiming to bring the tech to market in the future.
Uber’s self-driving effort is younger but moving fast. It set up a tech center in Pittsburgh in 2015 after rustling a number of of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. It launched a pilot program in the city in September and invited members of the public into its vehicles. The firm followed the same route Arizona recently.
For Uber, the inability to produce its own self-directed technology could turn out to be fatal. If rivals can offer ridesharing without passing most of the fare onto human driver, they could drive Uber out of business if the firm doesn’t develop parallel technology. And Waymo is barely the sole rivalry: Nissan, Ford and various other startups are making their way into this arena.