Thursday, 27 April, 2017

Google-bred company accuses Uber of self-driving vehicle theft

Enlarge  The Pacificas are topped with LIDAR sensors among other new Enlarge The Pacificas are topped with LIDAR sensors among other new
Lucas Bell | 28 February, 2017, 00:56

In its blog post, Waymo noted that "misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company". Uber acquired Otto, and put Levandowski in charge of the rideshare company's autonomous-vehicle research division.

Waymo says the 14,000 files downloaded by Levandowski represented approximately 9.7 GB worth of data.

The suit, filed on Thursday in California's Northern District, claims that Uber violated Waymo's trade secrets and infringed on their patents.

Uber rejected the allegations that it stole Google's self-driving auto technology Friday, calling the lawsuit from the search giant's autonomous vehicle spinoff "baseless" and vowing to "vigorously" defend itself in court.

The technology in question is LiDAR, a laser-based radar system that helps the self-driving cars "see" what is around them.

"Mr Levandowski took extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo's design server and then hide his activities", Waymo alleged in the lawsuit.

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Otto was co-founded by former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski, who, before leaving, reportedly downloaded 14,000 confidential files, including the design for Waymo's LiDAR circuit board. Amazingly, Waymo says it discovered this chain of events initially when a supplier accidentally copied it on emails to Uber and Otto that contained a circuit board design from the ride-sharing company which looked remarkably like its own.

Unlike other companies angling to be the first to produce commercially-viable autonomous vehicles, Uber's very existence depends upon them being at the forefront of the advancing technology.

Requests for comment on the case from Uber and Otto were unanswered as of Friday morning.

"To gain access to Waymo's design server, Mr. Levandowki searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop". Company executives say he downloaded the files onto a laptop to which he had attached an external hard drive.

The complaint said that Uber and Otto, acquired by the ride services company in August, stole confidential information on Waymo's lidar sensor technology.

The suit alleges that a week after downloading the files and after removing a data storage card, Levandowski reformatted the company laptop to erase any trace of what happened to the downloaded data. It was a unusual acquisition, considering Uber doesn't do trucks, but it was supposedly because Uber had an eye on Otto's LiDAR sensor. Waymo describes the LiDAR as "one of the most powerful parts" of its self-driving technology and added that "hundreds of Waymo engineers have spent thousands of hours, and the company has invested millions of dollars to design a highly specialised and unique LiDAR system". Waymo and Uber are two of the early leaders, while long-established vehicle companies such as Ford, Toyota and General Motors are scrambling to catch up.

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