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Google's Self-Driving Company Sues Uber Over Trade and Tech Secrets

Waymo, Google’s self-driving firm has filed a lawsuit against Otto, Uber’s self-driving vehicle.

Google's Self-Driving Company Sues Uber Over Trade and Tech Secrets

Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, which operates under Google’s Alphabet says a former employee stole confidential technology information prior to cofounding Otto, which Uber bought last year for $700m.

At the center of the row is Anthony Levandowski who Waymo is accusing of acquiring highly confidential information pertaining to Google’s self-driving car proprietary designs.

In a statement, Waymo said, “We believe these actions were part of a plan to steal Waymo’s intellectual property.”

Waymo, which was created this year, was an effort by Google to bring self-driving technology to the market, something it has been working on for several years.

Waymo said pursuing the legal action was a difficult decision.

In a blog post, the company said, “Our parent company Alphabet has worked with Uber for many years and this decision did not come lightly.”

It continued, “However, given the overwhelming evidence that our technology has been stolen, we are left with no choice but to defend our investment and development of this proprietary technology.”

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LiDAR technology

The technology in the middle of this lawsuit is LiDAR, the laser radar system that allows self-driving cars to detect their environment.

Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber details Levandowski’s moves a few days before he left Alphabet at the start of 2016.

The lawsuit cites downloads, web searches and access to an external drive that may have left evidence that the former employee violated intellectual property and trade secret laws.

This is a rare intellectual property claim coming from Alphabet but it marks a deepening of growing tensions between these two rivals in the autonomous vehicles and ride hailing businesses.

For much of his career Levandowski has chased the dream of building autonomous vehicles for use on actual roads.

He founded 510 Systems, a robotics company that built lasers for self-driving cars. He began working at Google in 2007, where he played a key role in building hardware for Google’s Street View project for cars.

Levandowski was later recruited into Google’s secret self-driving car project while continuing his work at 510 Systems. Google eventually acquired his company as it moved deeper into its self-driving car project.

Now, Waymo claims that Levandowski, secretly started Otto while he was still working as a Google employee.

Waymo’s lawsuit details how the prodigious engineer installed special software on his work laptop as of December 2015 and transferred 14,000 secret files about LiDAR laser technology.

In a response statement, Uber said it was taking the lawsuit very seriously.

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