Following the filing of a lawsuit last month alleging that former employee Anthony Levandowski (now the head of Uber’s self-driving tech program) stole key elements of its tech, Waymo (Alphabet/Google) has now requested that Uber be legally blocked from operating its self-driving vehicles.
The news originates with new documents filed as part of the company’s lawsuit, which were accompanied by a sworn testimony from a forensic security engineer with Google (since 2013) by the name of Gary Brown. Referencing logs from Google’s secure network, Brown alleges that Levandowski “downloaded 14,000 files from a Google repository that contain design files, schematics, and other confidential information pertaining to its self-driving car project. Levandowski used a laptop provided by Google to download the files, a fact that Brown says made it easy to track,” as reported by The Verge.
Brown stated: “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 (by its unique identifiers) and/or the interaction or activity (for example, downloading files from a secure repository).”
The files that were downloaded by Levandowski in December 2015, according to Brown, included a total of 9.7 GB of data. This figure included 2 GB of LiDAR subdirectories.
Following this act, Levandowski left Google just a month later to form the self-driving truck firm Otto. Later that year (in August), Otto was acquired by Uber for $680 million. Shortly thereafter, Uber began testing its self-driving vehicle tech on public roads.
The coverage from The Verge continues: “Brown also implicates two other engineers in the scheme to steal Waymo’s self-driving secrets: Radu Raduta and Sameer Kshirsagar. Both Raduta and Kshirsagar are alleged to have also downloaded confidential material from Google, including a list of vendors and consultants who specialize in the manufacture in LIDAR, before leaving to join Levandowski at Otto and then Uber.”
Interestingly, the new documents also include testimony from a principle hardware engineer at Google by the name of Pierre-Yves Droz, who previously co-founded a company (510 Systems) with Levandowski.
The testimony is pretty damning to my eyes. It includes an account from Droz describing how, on January 5th, 2016, he was walking with Levandowski around Google’s Mountain View–based campus discussing plans for the future and Levandowski basically indicated what he would go on to do.
Droz states: “During this walk, he told me specifically 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. He also told me that he planned to ‘replicate’ this Waymo technology at his new company.”
The coverage from The Verge continues:
“The conversation didn’t surprise him, Droz testified, because he could recall a previous time when Levandowski told him that he had met with Brian McClendon, the former of head of Google Maps who now helped run Uber’s self-driving car project, in the summer of 2015. ‘We were having dinner at a restaurant near the office, and he told me that it would be nice to create a new self-driving car startup and that Uber would be interested in buying the team responsible for the LiDAR we were developing at Google,’ Droz said according to court documents.
“He also reports that a colleague told him that Levandowski was spotted at Uber’s headquarters sometime in January 2016, shortly before he left to form Otto. ‘I asked Mr Levandowski about this, and he admitted he had met with Uber, and the reason he was there was that he was looking for investors for his new company,’ Droz testifies.”
A spokesperson for Uber has publicly stated that the lawsuit is “baseless.” What do you think? Is the company screwed here? Is it surprising that Uber brought someone on who basically stole IP from Google and pitched an investment idea to Uber based on this IP? Could Uber not see the red flags? Did it not have an issue stooping to such a level (essentially, stealing IP from Google) or did Uber execs somehow think Levandowski had the right to use that tech elsewhere?
The thing that’s particularly interesting here is that, if Waymo’s lawsuit succeeds, then not only will Uber be facing significant financial penalties, but the company’s self-driving program will be effectively crippled. Waymo/Google will have succeeded in greatly setting back one of its primary competitors in the self-driving tech market — all, apparently, because Uber execs were too arrogant and impatient.
The brazenness of this alleged fraud is pretty amazing, drawing a parallel with the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal — were the people involved that arrogant that they didn’t think they had to be more careful or subtle? Do people just not even care anymore? Or are they just getting more and more deluded (aided by the echo chambers of modern life) by the year?