Alphabet's Waymo Accuses Uber of Stealing Self-Driving LiDAR System

Google parent company Alphabet's self-driving Waymo car division today filed a lawsuit [PDF] against Uber, accusing the company of stealing its self-driving intellectual property.

In blog post shared this afternoon, Waymo explains that employees of Otto, a self-driving trucking startup recently acquired by Uber, allegedly stole technical information from Google's autonomous car project, something it equates to "stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company."


Specifically, former Google employee Anthony Levandowski, who co-founded Otto, is accused of stealing 14,000 confidential files that included data on the laser-based radar system used in Waymo vehicles. Waymo conducted a forensic investigation of Levandowski's former computer after accidentally receiving an email of Otto's LiDAR circuit board, which closely resembled Waymo's design.
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.
According to Waymo, its LiDAR system is "one of the most powerful parts" of its self-driving technology. Waymo's LiDAR system works by bouncing millions of laser beams off of surrounding objects to create a 3D picture of the world for detecting and avoiding objects.

Alongside Levandowski, Waymo says other former employees who now work for Otto and Uber downloaded other confidential files ranging from supplier lists to manufacturing details.

Waymo is asking for an injunction against Otto and Uber to stop the misappropriation of its designs, and it is asking for the return of all trade secret information and for Otto to cease infringing on Waymo patents.

As Google and Uber fight over self-driving car patents in an increasingly competitive market, Apple is rumored to be quietly developing its own autonomous driving system for use in third-party vehicles.

Apple was originally said to be working on its own full-fledged vehicle, but later scaled back its plans and refocused on autonomous driving software after internal staff restructuring. Apple has reportedly given its car team until 2017 to "prove the feasibility" of a self-driving car system.



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8 weeks ago
They may be able to steal its LiDAR system, but I'll be damned if anybody is able to make a car as cute as that.



Rating: 12 Votes
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8 weeks ago
This guy will fit right in at Uber. I don't know about their vehicle guidance, but the company itself lacks a moral compass.
Rating: 6 Votes
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8 weeks ago
Wouldn't surprise me - über like to operate outside the law in almost every country it operates in.
Rating: 6 Votes
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8 weeks ago
That sounds pretty damning...
Sounds like the have solid evidence.
Rating: 5 Votes
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8 weeks ago
That's pretty damning.
Rating: 3 Votes
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8 weeks ago
Uber is the Bain of my driving existence. Their drivers are reckless always stopping in the middle of the street and making random turns that indicate they have no idea where they are going.
Rating: 2 Votes
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8 weeks ago

Interesting that Google waits until someone with bucks (Über) buys out Otto before suing them.

The reasoning is right in the story.

Waymo conducted a forensic investigation of Levandowski's former computer after accidentally receiving an email of Otto's LiDAR circuit board, which closely resembled Waymo's design.

Rating: 2 Votes
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8 weeks ago

Clearly Uber has not had a very good week


Uber in general doesn't have a good rep. They're not known for paying their drivers well, they're under investigation for padding the ads for salary estimates, now they've got a former employee claiming essentially an entire HR department is run by some of the scummiest people known to the business, and then this.
Rating: 1 Votes
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8 weeks ago

Interesting that Google waits until someone with bucks (Über) buys out Otto before suing them.

Obviously Google waits until there is damage caused, and until there is damage caused by someone with deep pockets. That's what any reasonable company would do. Uber might end up paying for all of Google's development cost.

Otto only existed as a company for 3 months before being acquired by Uber (May to August 2016). Seems pretty suspicious to me.

If someone steals Google's trade secret (no idea if this is what happened or not, therefore the If), then Google absolutely has the right to make the most of it. They don't have any obligation to take someone to court while it is cheap. They have no obligation whatsoever, neither legal nor ethical, to keep the cost to Uber low. Google has the obligation towards its shareholders to maximise profits, including at the expense of someone illegally stealing trade secrets.
Rating: 1 Votes
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8 weeks ago

You mean by subverting government enforced monopolies?


No I mean by breaking existing laws... :\


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Uber is the Bain of my driving existence. Their drivers are reckless always stopping in the middle of the street and making random turns that indicate they have no idea where they are going.


No different to a regular taxi driver then...

I'm constantly baffled when they ask ME directions... despite having an integrated GPS in their cab???!
Rating: 1 Votes
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