The race to bring self-driving cars to the road got uglier this week as the self-driving car company owned by Google parent Alphabet accused Uber of using stolen technology to speed up its autonomous car development.
Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber on Thursday accusing the ride-hailing company of stealing its trade secrets.
“Competition in the self-driving space is a good thing; it pushes everyone to develop better, safer and more affordable technology. But we believe that competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions,” the Waymo team said in a Medium post announcing the suit, which names both Uber and Otto, a start-up owned by the ride-hailing company, as defendants.
The lawsuit argues that former Waymo manager Anthony Levandowski took information when he left the company to co-found a venture that became Otto.
It alleges Mr Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 highly confidential design files including some relating to what they call a LiDAR system of radar-like technology that allows self-driving cars to map the environment around them – thereby allowing Uber and Otto to fast-track its self-driving technology.
“Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company,” the company's spokespeople wrote, adding: “Hundreds of Waymo engineers have spent thousands of hours, and our company has invested millions of dollars to design a highly specialised and unique LiDAR system.”
Uber said it took the allegations seriously and would review the matter carefully.
The lawsuit puts both companies in an awkward position as Google Ventures, another Alphabet subsidiary, is also an Uber investor.
“We didn't make this decision lightly,” wrote Waymo.
“However, given the overwhelming facts that our technology has been stolen, we have no choice but to defend our investment and development of this unique technology.”
Last month, Tesla sued the former head of its autopilot system. It said he tried to recruit Tesla engineers for his new venture with the former head of Google’s self-driving program while still working there, and said he stole proprietary data belonging to Tesla.
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