Uber & Google Race For The Self-Driving Car (HBO)

Uber is locked in a legal battle with Google over stolen trade secrets and the cutthroat race for the self-driving car that both companies have set their sights on. It’s a corporate war that could decide the future of the auto industry. And in the middle of it, is just one man: Anthony Levandowski.

You know it’s been a bad week for your company when a board member steps down and your CEO takes a leave over sexist corporate culture and it’s not even your biggest problem. Uber is locked in a legal battle with Google over stolen trade secrets and the cutthroat race for the self-driving car that both companies have set their sights on. It’s a corporate war that could decide the future of the auto industry and in the middle of it is just one man.

Back in 2004 a berkeley graduate student named Anthony Levandowski builds a self-driving motorcycle which he calls Ghost Rider. He entered it in the DARPA Grand Challenge – a contest testing the limits of autonomous vehicles. Ghost Rider crashed and couldn’t finish the race but it was a start. After graduating, Levandowski co-founded a small company called 510 Systems where he built a program that marries images from multiple cameras with GPS data.

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He moved to Google in 2007 but continued to work at 510 on the side until 2011 when he convinced Google to buy 510 which then became the foundation of Google’s self-driving car division. The innovation at the heart of autonomous cars is a radar-like system called lidar which lets them see and navigate. Levandowski spent years at Google working on lidar but in January of 2016 he suddenly quit along with a handful of colleagues to open a company of their own a self-driving truck startup called Auto.

In August of that year Uber bought Auto and Levandowski for six hundred and eighty million dollars, but in December, a Google employee was accidentally copied on an email from an outside supplier showing a lidar circuit board that Google says looked suspiciously like the board Levandowski had developed for them and which under intellectual property law they would own. Two months later Google filed a public records request in Nevada where Uber was testing its vehicles which deepened its hunch that Levandowski had taken secrets with him when he moved to the company, a few days later Google filed suit.

Google alleges that shortly before quitting Levandowski and two others downloaded 14,000 documents from the company’s servers and that they then used what amounts to stolen property to develop self-driving technology for Google’s archrival. On March 30th Levandowski was called to testify in Google’s civil suit against Uber. He refused invoking his Fifth Amendment rights, he also refused to turn over any documents even though Uber urged him to. Two weeks ago Uber fired Levandowski but that won’t stop them from having to face Google in court, potentially curbing Uber’s self-driving dreams. For his part Levandowski may possibly return to court – to face criminal charges.

SOURCE: Vice News