Waymo is now suing Uber and Otto for allegedly stealing some components of its self-driving car technology.
The lawsuit has been filed before a California federal court and has outlined how Otto's founder Anthony Levandowski downloaded a tranche of Waymo's secret documents. He is currently the head of Uber's driverless car division.
Who Is Anthony Levandowski?
Levandowski is a former Google software engineer who worked on the company's self-driving car way before Alphabet decided to create Waymo as a separate business entity. He was attributed as the technical lead of the project, and some sources claim that he is responsible for Google's first self-driving car.
Just last year, Levandowski left Google's moonshot labs and proceeded on founding Otto, a startup in the business of developing self-driving kits that can be retrofitted into trucks.
He told the New York Times afterward that such decision was prompted by his eagerness to commercialize the self-driving vehicle as soon as possible. He must have become impatient with the pace that Waymo has taken. Through all these years of development, the company's automated vehicles remain stuck in the process of getting tested.
The rest is history for Levandowski: Otto was acquired by Uber, and the ride-hailing company already began using its self-driving car fleet to pick up passengers in some cities in the United States.
Waymo alleges that Levandowski took off with more than 14,000 confidential documents downloaded into an external hard drive. The company claimed that the Otto founder developed a specialized software that enabled him to breach the design server, which he raided, eventually stealing a total of 9.7 GB worth of files that include trade secrets, blueprints, and testing documentation.
Most importantly, said theft included the design of Waymo's Light Detection and Ranging system, or more popularly known as LiDAR. According to Waymo, the design is now getting circulated at Uber via email labeled Otto Files. Waymo was able to get its hands on a copy after a supplier, who must have received one, has promptly forwarded the missive.
LiDAR is widely seen as a critical component of a self-driving technology as it beams lasers to detect objects, complementing the automated car's camera and radar sensors. Google's proprietary LiDAR technology is said to be capable of bouncing millions of laser beams off surrounding objects.
Waymo claims that the email includes sketches of the LiDAR circuit board suspiciously similar to Waymo's and is now one of the subjects of the litigation.
"The Replicated Board reflects Waymo's highly confidential proprietary LiDAR technology and Waymo trade secrets," the company's lawsuit claimed. "Moreover, the Replicated Board is specifically designed to be used in conjunction with many other Waymo trade secrets and in the context of overall LiDAR systems covered by Waymo patents."
Recode has noted that Waymo is not only singling Levandowski and Uber in the lawsuit, as it identified several cohorts that also downloaded crucial information such as "supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work with highly technical information."
As of this writing, Levandowski and Uber are yet to issue statements about Waymo's allegations.