Uber fires back at Google spinoff in self-driving car case

Anthony Levandowski

Anthony Levandowski. Otto

The Waymo lawsuit contained bombshell allegations about widespread theft of files, and sought an injunction to prevent Uber from using any of the technology in its self-driving program.

The headquarters of Uber in San Francisco.

Uber admitted in court filings today that its in-house self-driving auto technology isn't ready to hit the road, and denied accusations from Waymo, Google's driverless vehicle project, that it's using stolen tech designs.

The filing is Uber's first to lay out how the company intends to defend itself against allegations that have the potential to halt its burgeoning self-driving auto program, and in so doing, shake up the entire autonomous vehicle industry.

"Waymo's injunction motion is a misfire: there is no evidence that any of the 14,000 files in question ever touched Uber's servers and Waymo's assertion that our multi-lens Lidar is the same as their single-lens LiDAR is clearly false", Uber's associate general counsel Angela Padilla said in a statement.

Waymo uses a single-lens Lidar.

Waymo sued Uber in February, alleging that Uber was able to scale up its autonomous program quickly after former Waymo executive Anthony Levandowski downloaded 14,000 of Waymo's files, including trade secrets, before leaving the company and going to Uber.

Uber Technologies Inc. has an alibi for Alphabet Inc.'s allegations of trade-secrets theft - the ride-hailing company's driverless vehicle technology is completely different from its rival's designs. As Jalopnik reported this week, from the outset of Levandowski's departure, he was immediately entwined with Uber, which proposed purchasing Otto just two months after Levandowski started the company.

Earlier in the week, the case was consumed with the hunt for the 14,000 documents that Waymo claims were taken from its system and downloaded onto a thumb drive.

Uber attorney Arturo Gonzalez told the court that none of the documents was found on Uber's servers.

"We can't produce something that we do not have", Gonzalez said.

In a court filing entered on Friday, Uber said it began designing a component of its self-driving system almost a year before hiring Anthony Levandowski, the former Waymo engineer at the center of the lawsuit who's accused of stealing 14,000 files before launching his self-driving truck start-up Otto.

"Otto trucks deployed in Nevada, however, did not have any LiDAR on them at all, much less LiDAR developed in-house, as shown by pictures taken of an Otto truck during its test runs", according to Uber's filing.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco has ordered Uber to do a more thorough search of its computer systems to see if the documents are in its possession. At one point Alsup warned he might go as far as to bar Levandowski from working on Uber's program until the litigation is resolved. It also claims that Levandowski and Lior Ron, another Otto co-founder who previously worked for Google, allegedly poached Google employees using confidential information, such as salaries and compensation packages.

"This circuit board bears a striking resemblance to Waymo's own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets", Waymo's complaint reads.

In the meantime, Uber has filed for a motion to arbitrate the case, arguing that because Waymo's case is entirely predicated on actions Levandowski allegedly committed during his employment, it should be bound by his employment agreement.

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