Google takes Uber to court on charges of stealing technology used in self-driving cars
By Sophie Yang, ’19
Waymo, a company owned by Google, is pursuing a lawsuit against Uber on charges of stealing its “LiDAR” sensor system for driverless cars.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Feb. 23, claimed that one of Waymo’s former employees had downloaded files from its servers and used them to start his own driverless car company — Otto — which Uber bought last August.
After they first filed the lawsuit, Waymo posted a note explaining its actions.
The note read, “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.”
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.
Waymo suspects that many of its employees had made a plan to sell LiDAR to Uber and gain top positions in that company. Aside from Levandowski, three employees had left Waymo to start Otto; one or two months later, 18 other employees resigned to join Otto.
“We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.” — Uber spokesperson
Uber denied the claim that it used Waymo’s technology.
“We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor,” an Uber spokesperson said. “We look forward to vigorously defending against them in court.”
On March 10, Waymo filed additional documents in court. One testimony from Waymo’s forensic security engineer Gary Brown describes confidential files being downloaded onto a laptop. A second testimony by Waymo’s principle hardware engineer Pierre-Yves Droz includes conversations in which Levandowski admitted to visiting Uber headquarters before he resigned.
If the lawsuit succeeds, Uber will be blocked from using any driverless car technology developed by Google first, including LiDAR. LiDAR, or “Light Detection and Ranging,” works by setting off lasers and measuring the time it takes the light to reflect. It is important in self-driving cars to detect the shape and movement of pedestrians and other vehicles.
The escalating lawsuit represents a major controversy over self-driving technology. However, the concept of driverless cars have been a contentious issue for years, having many supporters and opponents.
UAHS sophomore Nathan Swords, who has long been interested in cars, prefers traditional vehicles to self-driving ones due to concerns about safety with the current level of technology.
“I think if you can get a system with all self-driving cars on the road, then in theory, it would work,” Swords said. “Personally, I wouldn’t feel safe behind the wheel of [a self-driving car.]”
In addition to conflicts between developers, accidents with driverless cars can also present a legal question.
“When there’s an accident in a self-driving car… who is at fault?” Swords said. “Is it the driver, is it the company [or] is it whoever developed the [technology]?”
However, many feel that driverless cars will be a positive development.
For instance, a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the span of two years showed that 94 percent of car crashes were a result of human error such as nervousness, fatigue, or DUI. As technology develops, self-driving cars may reduce this statistic. Many also argue that having computer-controlled vehicles would allow for higher speed limits, cutting down traffic and environmental emissions.
Overall, the debate over driverless cars is ongoing. Many wait for an outcome as Google and Uber’s lawsuit continues to progress through the following months.