Trade Theft Charge Placed On Uber by Alphabet’s Self-Driving Car Unit

Alleging that its confidential and proprietary sensor technology has been stolen and being used wrongfully, Alphabet Inc’s Waymo self-driving car unit sued Uber Technologies and its autonomous trucking subsidiary Otto.

In order to speed its own efforts in autonomous technology, Otto, acquired by the ride services company in August, with stealing confidential information on Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology, and this was the accusation of Waymo against Uber and Otto.

“Uber’s LiDAR technology is actually Waymo’s LiDAR technology,” said Waymo’s complaint in the Northern District of California.

Uber said it took “the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”

Lidar is a crucial component of autonomous driving systems as it uses light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position on or near the road. Waymo said that its Lidar technology was among the company’s “most valuable assets,” because its previous systems have been prohibitively expensive and Waymo sought to design one over 90 percent cheaper.

A court order preventing Uber from using its proprietary information and an unspecified amount of damages is being sought by Waymo.

Anthony Levandowski, who had been an executive on Google’s self-driving project, was one of the high profile co-founders of Otto and the company was launched with much fanfare in May due to the big mane associated with it. Levandowski allegedly downloaded over 14,000 confidential files, including Lidar circuit board designs, thereby allowing Uber and Otto to fast-track its self-driving technology, before Levandowski’s resignation in January 2016 from Google, whose self-driving unit was renamed Waymo in December, Waymo said.

By reformatting the laptop that he had used for the accused crime, Waymo accused Levandowski of attempting to “erase any forensic fingerprints”.

“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 said.

The former head of Tesla’s Autopilot system was sued by the electric car company last month. The company said that while still working there, along with the former head of Google’s self-driving programme, Tesla engineers was attempted to be recruited for his new venture, it said. It also said that he stole proprietary data belonging to Tesla.

After it was inadvertently copied on an email from a component vendor that included a design of Uber’s Lidar circuit board, which bore a “striking resemblance” to Waymo’s design that is how the company managed to learn of this use of trade secrets and patent infringement, the company’s lawsuit said.

Waymo said in the lawsuit that Uber’s forays into the technology through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University had stalled by early 2016 even as the company also noted that Google had devoted over seven years to self-driving cars.

(Adapted from Reuters)

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