Alphabet’s Waymo says Uber stole key parts of its self-driving tech


Waymo Inc., which began its life as Google Inc.’s self-driving car division, today filed a lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc. claiming that the ride-hailing service stole some of its autonomous vehicle technology.

Waymo released a statement today detailing its complaint against Uber, and Waymo did not pull any punches in its accusations.

“Competition in the self-driving space is a good thing; it pushes everyone to develop better, safer and more affordable technology,” the Waymo team said. “But we believe that competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions. Recently, we uncovered evidence that Otto and Uber have taken and are using key parts of Waymo’s self-driving technology.”

In its statement, Waymo accused Uber of stealing its uniquely designed LiDAR system, which uses lasers to scan nearby objects, allowing a self-driving car to effectively “see” its environment in three dimensions all around it. Waymo explained that its engineers created a “highly specialized” LiDAR that is not used by anyone else. “Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company,” Waymo said.

Last year, Uber paid over $680 million for Otto, an autonomous vehicle startup founded by Anthony Levandowski, a former employee from Google’s self-driving car project. Otto specializes in converting existing commercial trucks into autonomous vehicles, and Waymo said in its statement that Otto’s LiDAR sensor was reportedly a key factor in Uber’s decision to buy the company.

Stolen data

After a supplier mistakenly sent Waymo machine drawings of Uber’s LiDAR circuit board, the company noticed that the design looked disturbingly familiar. After looking into the matter further, Waymo says it found evidence that Levandowski stole data before leaving Google:

“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.”

Waymo claims that other former Google employees who joined Uber or Otto also illegally downloaded data. “We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property,” the company said.

Waymo has requested an injunction against Uber and Otto to halt their autonomous vehicle work, and the company has filed a lawsuit that cites both patent infringement and the theft of trade secrets. The company has not revealed a dollar amount for what it expects to gain from the lawsuit, but given Otto’s $680 million price tag, it likely will not be cheap.

SiliconANGLE has reached out to Uber for comment on the lawsuit, but has not yet received a response. Forbes cited a statement it obtained from the company: “We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”

Image: Waymo