Uber Still Using Waymo Technology

An expert review has found that Uber is still using Waymo technology for its own autonomous vehicle technology.

In June 2018 the boss of Uber admitted that his firm was now talking with Alphabet’s autonomous driving unit Waymo. The two firms have had an exceeding frosty relationship over the past couple of years.

This was because in 2017 Waymo filed a trade secrets lawsuit against Uber, alleging that Anthony Scott Levandowski had stolen technology contained in 14,000 documents, from Waymo for use by Ottomotto (a company subsequently acquired by Uber).

Legal settlement

Uber in February 2018 agreed to pay Waymo $245m (£184m) in shares to settle the legal dispute over trade secrets.

As part of that settlement, an independent software expert was drafted in to review Uber’s technology for any Waymo links.

This expert review has now found that Uber was still reliant on Waymo know-how for elements of its own self-driving vehicle technology.

This means that Uber may either have to strike a licensing deal with Waymo, or spend time and money further adapting its own autonomous vehicle technology.

The disclosure was made in its latest 10Q filing with the SEC.

“In addition, we have been sued, and we may in the future be sued, for allegations of intellectual property infringement or threats of trade secret misappropriation,” said Uber. “For example, in February 2017, Waymo filed a lawsuit against us alleging, among other things, theft of trade secrets and patent infringement arising from our acquisition of Ottomotto LLC.”

“In February 2018, we entered into a settlement agreement with Waymo,” said Uber. “This agreement resolved Waymo’s claims and provided for certain measures, including the joint retention of an independent software expert, to ensure that our autonomous vehicle hardware and software do not misappropriate Waymo intellectual property.”

“The independent software expert recently made adverse findings as to certain functions in our autonomous vehicle software,” admitted Uber. “These findings, which are final, will likely result in a license fee or in design changes that could require substantial time and resources to implement, and could limit or delay our production of autonomous vehicle technologies.”

It is not clear when Uber will need to make a decision on its next move (either licensing tech from Waymo or developing its own).

Waymo told Reuters in a statement that the independent software expert’s findings “further confirm Waymo’s allegations that Uber misappropriated our software intellectual property. We will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure our confidential information is not being used by Uber.”

Other challenges

Uber is certainly dealing with a number of challenges at the moment.

Earlier this week the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the Uber self-driving car that hit and killed a pedestrian in 2018 was not programmed to handle jaywalkers.

In March 2018, one of Uber’s self-driving cars was involved in the fatal accident after it hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, while in the car was in autonomous mode.

Elaine Herzberg, 49, died from her injuries after she crossed the Arizona road late at night, right in front of the Uber self-driving car, a 2017 Volvo XC90.

Other issues could have a potential impact for Uber, when in August this year, a federal grand jury in San Jose indicted Anthony Scott Levandowski for theft of trade secrets.

Levandowski was a Google (Waymo) engineer from 2009 and was apparently one of the founding members of the group that worked on Google’s self-driving car project. He abruptly resigned from Google without notice on 27 January 2016.

At the time of his resignation, Levandowski was the lead of Google’s Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) engineering team, but he left and then co-founded Ottomotto (which was then brought by Uber).

Levandowski eventually was made head of Uber’s self-driving program.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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