San Diego – In 2009, Google began to design self-driving cars. Since that time, the project, known as Waymo, has been an industry leader in the area and has helped Google acquire thousands of patents in nearly every aspect of autonomous driving technology.
Waymo recently filed a lawsuit against fellow automation technology giant Uber and its driverless truck division known as Otto. Waymo claims that key intellectual property was stolen by a former employee and is now being used by their competitor. The specific technology in question is called LiDAR. It is a laser sensor system that allows a car to “see” 3-D high-definition images in 360 degrees around the car. It is a key piece of the car’s “vision” system. Waymo has invested tens of millions of dollars in developing LiDAR, and it is considered the most advanced vision system on the market to date.
In 2016, Waymo underwent a series of changes. Several key engineers left Waymo to either start their own automated driving ventures or join the competition. Most notable of these departures was Anthony Levandowski, who was a founding member of the Google Car team. Levandowski started San Francisco based Otto, which Uber purchased last year.
Waymo alleges that Levandowski installed special software on his company issued laptop, then downloaded 14,000 proprietary design files and transferred them to an external hard drive, and then after the transfer he wiped the memory on his computer to erase any digital fingerprint of his activity.
In a statement made in February, Uber challenged Waymo’s claims by stating they are “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor,” and they are going to fight Waymo’s lawsuit in court.
Waymo’s lawsuit requests a jury trial and is seeking an injunction to stop Uber from using its trade secrets, as well as unspecified damages and legal fees.
The lawsuit continues a string of bad news for Uber. It has recently been fighting allegations of sexual harassment. Also very recently an unflattering video was made public of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver. After the release of the footage, Mr. Kalanick issued the statement: “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up”.