The autonomous vehicles industry is hot – red hot if I may – with almost every major automaker and technology giant out there investing millions to come up with their own self-driving vehicle or technology that will drive these vehicles in the future.
Google has bet millions over the years and still continuing to put in immense about of money and so is Uber, which is planning to develop a fleet of autonomous vehicles for its ride-hailing service. Things are currently sour between the two companies with the former suing the latter for allegedly stealing secrets from its self-driving car project.
It is actually Waymo that has filed a lawsuit against Uber for alleged betrayal, high-tech espionage and greed. In a 28-page complaint, Waymo has accused Anthony Levandowski, a former top manager for Google’s self-driving car project, of stealing pivotal technology that is currently being used by Uber. According to Waymo, the Levandowski left Waymo in late 2015 and it was at that time that he stole the secrets.
Levandowski founded a startup called Otto that is building big-rig trucks that navigate highways without a human behind the wheel. Uber bought Otto for $680 million last year, and Levandowski is now overseeing Uber’s effort to develop and dispatch cars driven by robots.
Waymo’s lawsuit also will escalate the tensions between Google and Uber, two one-time allies that are morphing into rivals. Google invested $258 million in Uber, but its mapping subsidiary Waze is now expanding a carpooling service that could lure riders away from Uber. The budding rivalry prompted a top Google executive, David Drummond, to resign from Uber’s board of directors six months ago.
Waymo now operates as a subsidiary of Google’s corporate parent, Alphabet Inc, but its roots are in Google, where Levandowski worked for years. The complaint cites evidence Levandowski loaded 14,000 confidential files on a laptop before leaving to Otto. The alleged theft included the designs for circuit boards needed for “LiDAR,” an array of sensors that enable self-driving cars to see what’s around them so they can safely navigate roads.
Waymo says that other former Google employees also stole trade secrets before leaving to join Otto. Without the alleged skullduggery, Waymo alleges that Levandowski and the other former Google employees wouldn’t have been able to build the Otto technology that generated the windfall from the Uber sale.
Uber and Levandowski haven’t officially commented on the reports of this lawsuit.