Waymo, the self-driving car company that is housed under Google’s parent company Alphabet, is suing Uber and its self-driving truck company Otto, claiming the ride-hail company stole its key technology.
According to a lawsuit filed today in federal court in California, Waymo accuses Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who left Google, later on founded Otto, and is currently serving as a top ranking Uber executive, of stealing up to 14,000 documents which were highly confidential from Google before departing to start his own company. Among the documents were schematics of a circuit board and details about radar and LIDAR technology, Waymo says.
Waymo further accused Levandowski in a Medium post, saying,
We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.
Beyond Mr. Levandowki’s actions, we discovered that other former Waymo employees, now at Otto and Uber, downloaded additional highly confidential information pertaining to our custom-built LiDAR including supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work with highly technical information.
Also as further proof, Waymo claims it was alerted to Otto and Uber’s alleged treachery by a CC’d email which obviously was a mistake. “Waymo was recently – and apparently inadvertently – copied on an email from one of its LiDAR component vendors. The email attached machine drawings of what purports to be an Uber LiDAR circuit board,” the complaint reads. “This circuit board bears a striking resemblance to Waymo’s own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets.” The complaint continues, “As this email shows, Otto and Uber are currently building and deploying (or intending to deploy) LiDAR systems (or system components) using Waymo’s trade secret designs. This email also shows that Otto and Uber’s LiDAR systems infringe multiple LiDAR technology patents awarded to Waymo.”
According to Waymo, Levandowski’s actions were part of a “concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property,” adding that “months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to ‘replicate’ Waymo’s technology at a competitor.”
Uber an American multinational online taxi dispatch company headquartered in San Francisco, California, was founded by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009. Its Uber mobile app allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own cars. In 2014 Uber was ranked by Klout as the 48th-most powerful company in America. By late-2015, Uber was estimated to be worth $62.5 billion.
Waymo, previously known as the Google self-driving car project, is an autonomous car developer and an independent company under Alphabet Inc. The company began in 2009 as a project under Google. In 2015 the project completed its first driverless ride on public roads, giving a ride to a sole blind man in Austin, Texas.
In December 2016, Google transitioned the project into a new company called Waymo, housed under Google’s parent company Alphabet. Alphabet describes Waymo as “a self-driving tech company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.” The new company, which will be headed by long-time automotive executive John Krafcik, plans to make self-driving cars available to the public in 2020.
Otto is an American self-driving technology company established in January 2016 by Lior Ron and Anthony Levandowski. The San Francisco-based team, which has 90 employees as of August 2016, retrofits semi trucks with radars, cameras and laser sensors to make them capable of driving themselves. In August 2016 Otto was acquired by the transportation network company Uber. Co-founder Lior Ron has stated that Otto will have self-driving fleets of trucks on the road by early 2017.