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Waymo Claims Former Employee Stole Secrets in Lawsuit Against Uber

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【Summary】In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, Waymo claims a former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded 14,000 technical files and used the information to start an autonomous truck startup, Otto, which Uber owns.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Feb 27, 2017 1:30 PM PT
Waymo Claims Former Employee Stole Secrets in Lawsuit Against Uber

At the moment, automakers and companies are betting on LIDAR to pave the way forward for autonomous vehicles. LIDAR, which acts in a similar fashion to a radar system, creates a digital map for a vehicle to follow by shooting millions of lasers out of its sensors every second. When combined with advanced cameras and the right software, a vehicle should be able to drive itself without any human intervention. 

Companies looking to dominate in the world of self-driving vehicles have been working a long, long time on perfecting their LIDAR systems. Waymo, for instance, took seven years to design and build its laser-scanning system, reports Bloomberg. Uber, on the other hand, only took nine months to introduce its technology claims the outlet. Waymo doesn't believe that's a coincidence. 

Former Employee Allegedly At Fault

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, Waymo claims that Anthony Levandowski, one of its former employees, downloaded 14,000 technical files, which pertained to the company's LIDAR system, and used the files to launch Otto, an autonomous truck startup, reports Wired. Last August, Uber acquired Otto, which was founded by former employees from not only Google, but also from Tesla, Apple, Cruise Automation and more. 

According to the suit, Levandowski downloaded the design files six weeks before his resignation. To do so, the former employee, as pointed out in a blog post by Waymo, installed special software onto his company laptop and downloaded 9.7 GB of the company's confidential files. Levandowski allegedly put the files onto an external hard drive and reformatted the laptop to make it appear like he hadn't downloaded the documents. 

If Levandowski went to great lengths to ensure that Waymo would not be able to trace his footsteps, then how did the company find out about the theft? According to the blog post, Waymo received an accidental email from one of its suppliers that specializes in LIDAR components, which had an attachment of one of Uber's LIDAR circuit board. After further examination, the company found the design to have a "striking resemblance" to its own. 

Part Of A Plan Or A Coincidence?

"Otto and Uber have taken Waymo's intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of indecently developing their own technology," stated Waymo in its complaint. "We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo's trade secrets and intellectual property," Waymo went on to write in a blog post.  

The lawsuit makes the situation between Waymo and Uber a little tense as both companies make strides towards becoming the first to release autonomous vehicles. As reported by USA Today, Uber spokesperson MoMo Zhou Waymo's lawsuit "a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor" and stated that the company looks forward to defending its position in court. 

This isn't the first time a company has sued one of its competitors for stealing its secrets. Earlier this month, Tesla filed suit against Aurora Innovation, which was started by one of the electric automaker's former employees Sterling Anderson.  

With automakers and companies in a heated race to be first, we're sure this won't be the last lawsuit we hear of. 

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