Uber Technologies Inc. is using stolen self-driving car technology in the pursuit of creating its own car, Waymo Inc. said last month when filing a lawsuit. On Friday, Waymo went one step further, asking a federal judge to halt all of Uber’s work on autonomous vehicle technology.
Uber has maintained that the complaints made by Waymo, as Google’s self-driving car unit is now called, are “baseless.” But Google Inc. engineer Gary Brown gave testimony against Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer, founder of self-driving truck company Otto and now head of Uber’s self-driving division.
In that testimony Brown stated that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files from a repository containing secret designs and schematics, as well as other important information on Waymo’s self-driving car project. Part of the 9.7-gigabyte download was information concerning LiDAR, a vital part of self-driving technology that uses laser-guided sensors to map the environment.
Brown said the fact that Levandowski had used a work laptop made his actions easy to track. “When an employee’s device interacts with a Google service or is active on a Google network, those interactions and activities can be recorded in logs that identify the device (by its unique identifiers) and/or the interaction or activity (for example, downloading files from a secure repository),” said Brown.
Two other engineers were collaborating with Uber, Waymo said, claiming that Radu Raduta and Sameer Kshirsagar downloaded information pertaining to LiDAR providers and consultants. Uber also has testimony against it from Waymo principal hardware engineer Pierre-Yves Droz.
Droz has stated Levandowski had mentioned to him how he was going to replicate Waymo’s technology at a new company, and that he had also been seen at Uber’s headquarters in 2016. Uber has yet to respond publicly, except for maintaining that the accusations are baseless. If it’s ever proved in court that Uber knew Levandowski had stolen company secrets from Waymo before buying Otto for $680 million, Uber would find itself in very hot water.
The escalating battle comes at a time when self-driving cars are starting to get traction as governments pave the way for street trials. California announced on Friday that it will now allow testing of completely autonomous vehicles on public roads. Heretofore a human driver has been required to sit in at all times during testing.
Although the cars must have a remote operator who can take over the vehicle at any time and also communicate with passengers, the new regulations are a fairly big statement of confidence in self-driving technology.