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Google suing Uber over “stolen” driverless technology

Uber denies the allegations that are being made against them (Photo: Uber)

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Kate Mann
Kate Mann
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Grand theft driverless auto? Search engine giant files lawsuit against Uber for patent infringement.

The (driving) gloves are off. Two of the biggest names – and perhaps biggest rivals – in the automated driving arena are going head to head. According to reports, Google is suing Uber for pinching their driverless car technology. The recently filed lawsuit claims that ride-hailing enterprise Uber has stolen trade secrets from Google and is using them in its autonomous cars, writes The Telegraph

The allegation revolves around Otto – the self-driving truck startup founded by former Google staff and purchased by Uber in 2016. The suggestion is that when the founders of Otto left Google, they took some design secrets with them. And we are not talking ideas here, but concrete materials. Google claims they have evidence to suggest that Otto founder Anthony Levandowski downloaded large amounts of sensitive information and used it to develop his own version. 

“We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo's various hardware systems,” Google said. As reported by The Telegraph, the company also believes that additional documents were taken by other former employees who went to Otto. 

The technology at the center of the dispute is LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors. Seen as a solution to one of the biggest technical challenges facing automated driving, it enables Hi-Res precision surveying technology. Whilst many companies are now turning to LiDAR, Google says that the design being trialed by Uber bears a “a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design.”

At present, Uber is denying the allegations. Business Insider reports that they have called them “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor," stating that they “look forward to vigorously defending against them in court.” Fighting talk, but if unsuccessful, Uber could be prevented from working on LiDAR technology for as long as it took Google to develop it.

Interestingly, movement of key staff is nothing new to Google. In December 2016, it transpired that the man behind the code running the company’s driverless vehicle software Chris Urmson is founding his own autonomous driving company.  

Read more in The Telegraph here and Business Insider here.

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