When the ride-hailing app company Uber first hit the scene they were regarded as a remarkable innovator in top-tier technology. Unfortunately, the news about Uber, of late, has been less than favorable—from harassment scandals, to security concerns—but now the company faces a new challenge: the competition to lead the self-driving car industry.
Alphabet—the parent company of Google—is working at blazing speed to become the industry leader, and Uber is working equally hard—to keep pace. Still, they are struggling behind the tech company who continues to make great progress in advancing this new technology.
It turns out that Alphabet’s Waymo project is far ahead of anything that Uber is doing; and it is really more a matter of experience than anything else. Obviously, the folks at Uber are ambitious, and they have the technology—or, at the very least, the capabilities—to back it up. But Uber has only logged about 20,000 miles of autonomous driving miles before the California Department of Motor Vehicles barred—albeit temporarily—Uber from testing vehicles on municipal streets.
How many of these autonomous miles has Alphabet’s Waymo driven?
More than 635,000. and that was just in 2016, alone.
But, this is where things start to get very dicey. Uber was starting to close the gap until Waymo brought upon Uber a lawsuit which alleges the ride-hailing app company was actually stealing Alphabet’s tech in order to close that gap. This is, of course, technology that took Alphabet several thousand hours to get just right.
This suit alleges that self-driving vehicle department head Anthony Levandowski took in $120 million in incentives while secretly building a technology called “Otto,” software which Uber eventually acquired (and is the driving force behind the company’s, well, autonomous driving). This suit claims that Levandowski stole Alphabet’s Lidar technology while working to build Google’s self-driving project—both the design and intellectual property—in order to build his outside company.
According to the official US District Court complaint, “Fair competition spurs new technical innovation, but what has happened here is not fair competition. Instead, Otto and Uber have taken Waymo’s intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of independently developing their own technology.”
Similarly, Waymo announced the lawsuit on its official blog, saying: “Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company.”