Bloomberg: It took Alphabet’s Waymo seven years to design and build a LiDAR for its self-driving cars. Uber-acquired Otto startup allegedly did it in nine months. Waymo claims in a lawsuit that its former employees stole the designs and technology and started a new company. Waymo says:
"One of the most powerful parts of our self-driving technology is our custom-built LiDAR — or “Light Detection and Ranging.” LiDAR is critical to detecting and measuring the shape, speed and movement of objects like cyclists, vehicles and pedestrians.
Hundreds of Waymo engineers have spent thousands of hours, and our company has invested millions of dollars to design a highly specialized and unique LiDAR system. Waymo engineers have driven down the cost of LiDAR dramatically even as we’ve improved the quality and reliability of its performance. The configuration and specifications of our LiDAR sensors are unique to Waymo. Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company.
In 2016, Uber bought a six-month old startup called Otto and appointed its founder (a former employee on our self-driving car project) as its head of self-driving technology. At the time, it was reported that Otto’s LiDAR sensor was one of the key reasons Uber acquired the company.
Recently, we received an unexpected email. One of our suppliers specializing in LiDAR components sent us an attachment (apparently inadvertently) of machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s LiDAR circuit board — except its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design.
We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.
Beyond Mr. Levandowki’s actions, we discovered that other former Waymo employees, now at Otto and Uber, downloaded additional highly confidential information pertaining to our custom-built LiDAR including supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work with highly technical information."