In a sign the battle over dominance in autonomous vehicle development is heating up, Waymo is suing Uber over claims that a former employee stole its lidar system designs.
Waymo says it was tipped off to the theft of intellectual property after being accidentally included on an email chain from one of its suppliers. The email chain included a design for an Uber lidar circuit board that looked nearly identical to a Waymo lidar circuit board that was designed in-house, Waymo said.
Waymo, which was spun out of Google in December, filed the lawsuit Thursday in California federal court. According to the suit, former Google employee Anthony Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files related to lidar design six weeks before he resigned in late January 2016. He left to start a self-driving truck startup named Otto, which was later acquired by Uber.
“We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property,” the company wrote in a blog post.
An Uber spokeswoman said: “We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”
Waymo’s lidar system has been a point of pride for the company, which announced in January at the Detroit auto show that it had developed its technology in-house, reducing costs by more than 90 percent.
Levandowski, 36, began his career in autonomous vehicles when he entered his self-driving motorcycle, Ghostrider, in the 2004 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge. He joined Google’s Street View mapping project in 2007 and later helped launch the tech giant’s self-driving car efforts.
The lawsuit is not the first claim of corporate espionage among self-driving technology companies. In January, Tesla Inc. sued its former head of Autopilot, Sterling Anderson, and ex-Google employee Chris Urmson for stealing company information to start their own self-driving company.