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Google (Alphabet) Sues Uber For Self Driving Car Tech Theft

Late last year, we had reported about how after seven long years of teasing around about its ambitious self-driving car project, tech giant Google had finally announced its own self-driving car company, Waymo. And now, just after three months of being launched, the company has landed itself in its first big controversy.

Waymo has sued Uber Technologies and its autonomous trucking subsidiary Otto over allegations of stealing its confidential and proprietary sensor technology.

Launched in May last year, Otto has been making headlines since its launch because of Anthony Levandowski, one of its co-founders. A former executive on Google's self-driving project, Levandowski was one of the many executives who ended up abandoning the project midway when the pressure of churning out a cutting edge technology with a mandate to turn a profit crossed the rooftop.

It is important to note here that Waymo functions within Alphabet, Google’s parent company, which came into existence in 2015 with an objective of overseeing the company’s far-flung projects that have no relation with Google’s core business of online search and advertising. Since 2014, those far-flung projects have reportedly lost a whopping $8 billion, with a major chunk of it going into self-driving cars research. This was the reason that had led Google to tighten the grip on its Waymo project executives.

Waymo has accused Uber and Otto, which was acquired by the popular ride services giant in August, with the theft of confidential information on Waymo's LiDAR sensor technology and then using the technology to pace the speed of its own autonomous technology. According to the lawsuit filed by Waymo, Uber acquired Otto in a whopping $680 million deal.

The complaint filed in the Northern District of California clearly states Waymo saying, "Uber's LiDAR technology is actually Waymo's LiDAR technology."

In the complaint, Waymo seeks an unspecified amount in damages and a court order that prevents Uber and Otto from using its proprietary information.

In a statement issued by the ride services giant in response to the lawsuit controversy, Uber said that it is taking the allegations made by Waymo against Otto and Uber employees quite seriously and they will be reviewing the matter carefully.

The LiDAR technology, makes use of light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position on or near the road, is considered as a very important part of autonomous driving systems. While working on the autonomous driving technology for last seven years, Google realised that the previous systems have been extremely expensive. This is when it decided to design one which is over 90 per cent cheaper, and gave birth to its very own LiDAR technology. According to Waymo, its LiDAR technology is among the company's "most valuable assets."

Waymo's complaint states before resigning from Google in January 2016, Levandowski had downloaded over 14,000 confidential files, including LiDAR circuit board designs. This very act of his gave Uber and Otto the leverage to put their self-driving technology ok fast-track. Google's Waymo has accused its former employee of then attempting to "erase any forensic fingerprints" of his act by intentionally reformatting his laptop.

"While Waymo developed its custom LiDAR systems with sustained effort over many years, defendants leveraged stolen information to shortcut the process and purportedly build a comparable LiDAR system in only nine months," the complaint filed by Waymo reads.

According to Waymo, it learned about this usage of its trade secrets and patent infringement by Uber and Otto after it received an email from a component vendor that included a design of Uber's LiDAR circuit board. Upon observance, it noted that the design had a "striking resemblance" to Waymo's LiDAR circuit board design. Waymo was apparently inadvertently copied on the said email.

[Top Image: Cnet]

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