Uber has been hit with another controversy after Alphabet (Google’s parent company) sued Uber for allegedly stealing self-driving secrets.
Google’s Waymo has been under development for the past seven years. According to Bloomberg, they even built a laser-scanning system to equip the self-driving car. However, Uber has apparently created their own version in just nine months.
Google’s Waymo team claimed that the feat was only achieved because one of their former employees stole about 14,000 files from the project and turned it over to Uber.
Uber’s Otto, the company’s subsidiary for self-driving cars development has been under scrutiny, especially after the automobile startup started acquiring Alphabet employees.
Anthony Levandowski was a former manager at Waymo. According to the complaint, 14, 000 proprietary and confidential files last December 2015 including the sought-after lidar circuit board were stolen.
According to Bloomberg, the lidar tech is one of the biggest secrets of the Waymo advancement.
“Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company. We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property,” Waymo noted on their blog.
Lidar works on a radar-like system that utilizes laser waves instead of radio waves.
“Lidar comprises a series of rotating, stacked lasers that shoot out at different angles. Each layer is called a channel, and is made up of two laser beams. The signal from each individual channel creates one contour line, and together, those lines generate a 3-D image of the surrounding environment. That means that, the more lasers in each stack, the higher the resolution. Velodyne, for instance, manufactures products with 16, 32 and 64 laser channels.”
Uber, on the other hand, is not backing down. They called the suit “baseless” and said that they will proceed with the legal battle.
“We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competition and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court,” said an Uber spokeswoman.
Still, Waymo is pointing its fingers at Levandowski who allegedly installed their “specialized software” to the Uber tech.
“Levandowski took extraordinary effort to raid Waymo’s design server and then conceal his activities,” the suit reads.
According to Bloomberg, this will not be an intellectual property or patent suit. Though there are laws that protect Waymo from these, theft is a whole different avenue.
Since Uber acquired Otto in a short period of time after they got Levandowski, Waymo is suggesting that everything has been orchestrated from the start. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick himself noted how much he liked Levandowski and said that he felt they were like “brothers from another mother.”
Levandowski, in 2016, also told Forbes that Uber did not steal anything from Google.
“Just want to make sure, super clear on that. We built everything from scratch and we have all of the logs to make that –just to be super clear,” Levandowski said.
Though there is still a possibility that Uber did not know Levandowski stole, if proven true, these documents, Uber should initiate to fire the engineer, according to Bloomberg.
Tyler Ochoa, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, also agrees.
“These are very serious allegations, if true. The trade secret case by itself is a blockbuster.”
This is not the first time there has been a rift in the self-driving tech industry. Tesla is also suing its former head, Sterling Anderson, over a confidentiality agreement. Anderson started working on a Google venture called Aurora Innovation LLC this January. Anderson left Tesla last December so the timeline is quite close.
[Featured Image by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images]