It promises to be an interesting story, with all the intrigue and conspiracy of a Hollywood spy thriller. Waymo, an Alphabet business that creates driverless car tech, has sued Uber for stealing their technology.
This is how it played out. Anthony Levandowski was working in Google’s driverless car division, the entity that has now been spun off into Waymo. Evidently tired of corporate bureaucracy, and wanted to spread his entrepreneurial wings, Levandowski founded his own business, Otto, which created self-driving technology for commercial trucks. Despite Levandowski being one of many to leave the business, Google and Alphabet were less than aggressive in enforcing non-compete agreements, which likely made the Otto team comfortable that they would be left to their own devices.
Then Uber purchased Otto for a staggering (reported) $680million and spun the business into their own. It wasn’t until a supplier sent images to Waymo, said to be of an Uber circuitboard, that alarms began to ring – the circuit board looked exactly like a piece of tech from Waymo, designed to increase the field of vision for self-driving vehicles.
Alphabet began to dig deeper, looking into Levandowski’s activities in the days and weeks leading up to his departure from Waymo. According to an article published by Waymo, 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. 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.” All of this, allegedly done on a laptop issued by Google.
Uber has offered only a generic response, saying that they take all allegations seriously, and are investigating, but now the battle for being the first viable self-driving car is really heating up. It’s not surprising; with this being the most significant shift in vehicles since the automobile was invented, and as a result, the potential profits for claining the position of primary innovator, are staggering.
While everything at this stage is allegation only, it will be interesting to see, if this goes to court, how Uber handles a potential case of industrial espionage, and how that impacts future acquisitions. Regardless, it’ll make for fascinating viewing, as two giants clash.