First Tesla against Aurora, now Google-Waymo against Uber/Ot.to.The battle about IP on self-driving technology is opened. And we are talking about a lot of money. But let’s start slowly.
Beginning 2016 Anthony Levandowski, participant of the DARPA Grand Challenge on autonomous vehicles and former member of Google’s self-driving car group, co-founded with other former Googlers a startup named Ot.to, which works on developing autonomous trucks. Levandowski’s was quoted that the development of autonomous vehicles at Google was proceeding to slow and thought that the introduction of self-driving trucks will be faster.
Only eight months after found Ot.to, the company was acquired by Uber for a rumored 700 million dollars, a mind-blowing large amount for an eight months old startup. Because all car companies are currently hiring self-driving engineers like crazy, the price per engineer is around 10 million dollars. Uber bought talent, and, as it turns out, technical knowledge that was acquired illegally.
The Google-subsidiary was alerted by an email that was sent accidentally to Waymo by a supplier that both Google and Uber work with, and was meant to be between the supplier and Uber. It contained an attachment with a spec and blueprint of a circuit for a Lidar-system that looked suspiciously similar to the Waymo-blueprints. Google considers its Lidar-technology as ground breaking, as also mentioned by Waymo-CEO John Krafcik at the Detroit Autoshow, who talked about how much Google could reduce the costs and improve the quality of the sensors.
An immediately done Waymo-internal investigation resulted in evidence that a few weeks before he left Google, Levandowski skimmed with special software 14,000 documents with specifications, blue prints and test routines for the sensor systems. Other former Google-employees copied supplier lists, production details and statements of works.
Waymo counters this theft of 9.7Gb of data with a lawsuit. This court case shows that the competition about self-driving car technology heats up and that a lot of money is involved. Self-driving technology is potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars in an automotive market that accounts for 1 trillion dollar of worth.
This article was also published in German.