A high-profile legal battle begins to play out in San Francisco on Monday as Alphabet’s self-driving car division, Waymo, meets Uber in court.
The court will ultimately decide which company will forge ahead as a leader in self-driving cars and autonomous technology. Waymo’s lawsuit alleges that Uber stole thousands of documents and trade secrets that the company attempted to cover up as an acquisition. The story began to play out after an Uber employee inadvertently copied a Waymo employee in an email containing a circuit board drawing that Waymo said shared a “striking resemblance” to its own design.
The bigger picture paints an even larger conspiracy. At the center of it all is robotics engineer Anthony Levandowski, who worked under Alphabet’s Google and abruptly left the company. Almost immediately, Levandowski started his own self-driving truck manufacturer, Otto. Uber then purchased Otto for $700 million.
Waymo alleges that Uber didn’t purchase a self-driving truck maker, but instead bought a waterfall of the company’s self-driving car technology knowledge and trade secrets. Specifically, it’s expected Waymo will argue that Levandowski provided Uber with eight of its lidar trade secrets as part of 14,000 stolen files. The company claims the former robotics engineer downloaded and stole the files ahead of his departure. Lidar, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is an essential component that allows self-driving cars to “see” the world around them, much like radar.
Controversies and scandals have hit Uber hard in recent months. Uber previously ousted now-former CEO Travis Kalanick from the company and multiple allegations of sexual harassment have plagued the ride-sharing company.