March 10, 2017

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Uber may be in big trouble: Alphabet’s Waymo has brought in two key witnesses against Uber and has formally asked the judge to block Uber from operating its autonomous vehicles. If the company can prove their claim, the result could be devastating for the already-troubled Uber.

Waymo files the sworn testimony of Gary Brown

Earlier last month, Alphabet’s Waymo sued Uber for stealing its intellectual property, and now new documents provide some additional information.

According to Gary Brown’s testimony – a forensic security engineer who’s been with Google since 2013 – Anthony Levandowski, who is now in charge of Uber’s self-driving car program, downloaded 14,000 files from Google’s repository when he was an employee. The files included confidential information like design schematics, and Brown claims that the company was able to trace the download back to Levandowski’s laptop.

According to him, “When an employee’s device interacts with a Google service or is active on a Google network, those interactions and activities can be recorded in logs that identify the device and/or the interaction or activity.”

Levandowski allegedly downloaded almost 10GB worth of material, which includes LIDAR subdirectories, a laser scanning and mapping technology that is essential in autonomous driving. He officially left Google in 2016 to found a start-up for self-driving trucks called Otto, and shortly after, this was acquired by Uber. A month after the acquisition, Uber launched its first test of self-driving fleet, back in September of last year.

Brown further testifies that two other engineers – Radu Raduta and Sameer Kshirsagar – stole Waymo’s self-driving secrets regarding LIDAR and joined Otto, eventually working for Uber. Waymo has now formally asked the judge to put a stop to Uber’s “illegal” operations:

Given the strong evidence we have, we are asking the court step in to protect intellectual property developed by our engineers over thousands of hours and to prevent any use of that stolen IP.

Pierre-Yves Droz further explains Levandowski’s ambition to “replicate” Waymo

Waymo’s document also includes testimony by Pierre-Yves Droz, the company’s principle hardware engineer. Droz explains Google’s previous efforts to develop its own LIDAR technology and details the conversations he had with Levandowski regarding that technology.

According to Droz, in January of 2016, he and Levandowski had a conversation during which Levandowski told Droz that he wanted his new company to have “a long-range LiDAR, which is very useful for self-driving truck applications he was interested in,” and that “he planned to ‘replicate’ this Waymo technology at his new company.”

Droz also recalls the time when Levandowski specifically said that it would be nice “to create a new self-driving car start-up and that Uber would be interested in buying the team responsible for the LiDAR [that was being developed by Google].” Levandowski reportedly met with Uber all the way back in January, right after he had left Google, and although it’s not clear whether Waymo can prove that Levandowski sold these secrets to Uber and that Uber knowingly acquired Otto, if it is able to, it could have a detrimental effect on Uber.

Troubled Uber must grow up

It seems that every day, there is something new that tarnishes Uber’s already-soiled public image. The question is, “Will this be the final blow?”

Uber’s problem isn’t limited to this accusation. During the past few months, female workers have spoken up about Uber’s inaction against sexual harassment and sexism at workplace, mass movements called for an Uber boycott, and the company CEO has had to apologize after a video of his aggressive behavior surfaced online.

It seems that every day, there is something new that tarnishes Uber’s already-soiled public image. The question is, “Will this be the final blow?”

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