Waymo, the self-driving car project started by Google that now exists under the shared parent company Alphabet, is officially suing Uber and Otto for allegedly stealing autonomous driving technology.
“Recently, we uncovered evidence that Otto and Uber have taken and are using key parts of Waymo’s self-driving technology,” Waymo said in a blog post this week. “Today, we’re taking legal action against Otto and its parent company Uber for misappropriating Waymo trade secrets and infringing our patents. We wanted to share more context on why we made this decision.”
Waymo said that it received an “unexpected email” that it thinks one of its suppliers attached accidentally, showing what was supposed to be a circuit board for Uber’s Light Detection and Ranging technology, otherwise known as LiDar, which allows cars to “see” obstacles around it. Waymo said it realized that the circuit board “bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design.”
Waymo said it discovered a former employee, who left Google’s project to go work for Uber, downloaded 14,000 “highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board.” Waymo says it has evidence that the employee, Anthony Levandowski, then tried to cover his tracks by reformatting his storage. Even worse, Levandowski (and other employees who apparently also stole data), had already spoken of doing just this.
Competition is what drives each of these firms to do better in the industry, but we’re not going to have very great competition or products if autonomous driving companies are using the same technology, purposefully or not.