Forget ridesharing. That’s so last year. Now the big race is on to see which company will be the first to launch a fleet of self-driving cars. And that race is definitely heating up. While Uber seems to have the inside track, others are gaining fast. And now, one of those competitors is accusing the industry innovator, Uber, of cheating to get ahead, a major crisis for them.
Waymo brought Uber to court in San Francisco recently, claiming that Uber is using Waymo’s autonomous vehicle technology to jumpstart its own development program. Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven claimed that he will offer evidence proving a scheme cooked up by Uber executives and a former engineer for Google that hoped to bring proprietary technology to Uber. Waymo had been part of Google before spinning off on its own. The lawsuit came after an investigation that began back in 2016 after Waymo received an email from a supplier with a suspicious attachment. The doc attached to the email contained a detailed schematic for Uber’s LiDAR circuit board. What made the attachment suspicious is that the Uber design looked quite a bit like Waymo’s circuit board design.
During opening statements in a packed-out courtroom, Verhoeven described the competition between Uber and Waymo as intense: “This is about two competitors, where one competitor decided they needed to win at all costs… Losing was not an option.”
Verhoeven went on to accuse Uber executives of knowing that a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, left Google and brought trade secrets to Uber. He went on to allege that the engineer stole upwards of 14,000 files filled with all kinds of proprietary self-driving car data. Subsequent to leaving Google, Levandowski founded self-driving truck company, Otto. Later, Uber purchased Otto for roughly $680 million a few months later. Whether or not Waymo can prove these allegations remains to be seen, but Verhoeven claims to have ironclad evidence of collusion between Uber and Levandowski to steal from Waymo in an effort to push Uber’s own self-driving car initiative forward.
Meanwhile, Uber said it’s on the outs with Levandowski, having fired him last summer for “failure to cooperate” with the company. Uber attorney Bill Carmody had harsh criticism for Levandowski. “Uber regrets ever bringing Levandowski on board… For all his time at Uber, all Uber has to show for (it) is this lawsuit.”
So, it looks like the battle lines are drawn and opposing narratives are written. Uber will argue that Levandowski was trouble from day one and never helped them at all, while Waymo will argue the fix was in from the beginning. Who will the court believe? We will know soon enough … but who will the public believe? That depends on which side manages to control the narrative.