Waymo sues Uber and Otto with stealing confidential information on Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology

Picture credit: Takayuki Yamazaki

Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving car unit sued Uber and its autonomous trucking subsidiary Otto yesterday over allegations of theft of its confidential and proprietary sensor technology, according to Reuters.

Waymo accused Uber and Otto, acquired by Uber in August, with stealing confidential information on Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology to help speed its own efforts in self-driving technology.

Lidar, which uses light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position on or near the road, is a crucial component of self-driving systems. Previous systems have been very expensive and Waymo sought to design one over 90% cheaper, making its Lidar technology among the company’s “most valuable assets,” Waymo said.

“Uber’s LiDAR technology is actually Waymo’s LiDAR technology,” said Waymo’s complaint in the Northern District of California.

Uber said it took “the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully,” according to Reuters.

Otto launched in May.

One of its co-founders, Anthony Levandowski, has been an executive on Google’s self-driving project.

Uber acquired Otto in August for what Waymo said in the lawsuit was $680 million.

Waymo said that before Levandowski’s resignation in January 2016 from Google, whose self-driving unit was renamed Waymo in December, he downloaded over 14,000 confidential files, including Lidar circuit board designs, thereby allowing Uber and Otto to fast-track its self-driving technology.

“While Waymo developed its custom LiDAR systems with sustained effort over many years, defendants leveraged stolen information to shortcut the process and purportedly build a comparable LiDAR system in only nine months,” the complaint said.

Waymo noted that Google used over seven years to self-driving cars.

Waymo’s lawsuit said it learned of this use of trade secrets and patent infringement after it was inadvertently copied on an email from a component vendor that included a design of Uber’s Lidar circuit board, which bore a “striking resemblance” to Waymo’s design.