FutureStructure

Federal Ruling Stalls Uber Self-Driving Research

The ruling prevents Uber from using Waymo’s technology on a laser navigational tool called Lidar that robotic cars use to see what’s around them.

by Boston Herald / May 16, 2017
Uber's self-driving car in San Francisco Uber

(TNS) -- DETROIT — A federal judge’s order that bars Uber from using technology taken by a star engineer before he left Waymo is bad news for Uber and likely will hurt the ride-hailing company’s own self-driving research, according to legal experts.

The ruling by District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco was mainly a victory for Waymo, the autonomous car unit spun off from Google, even though the judge refused to order a halt to Uber’s autonomous car research as Waymo had requested, the experts said.

Waymo showed “compelling evidence” that a former Waymo engineer named Anthony Levandowski downloaded thousands of confidential files before leaving the company, the order said. Levandowski set up his own firms, which were then sold to Uber for $680 million. Evidence showed that Levandowski and Uber planned the acquisitions before Levandowski left Waymo, Alsup’s order said.

“He (Alsup) clearly believes that Levandowski is guilty as sin and that Uber hired him, knowing this full well,” said John Coffee, a Columbia University law professor who specializes in white-collar crime and corporate governance. “He is ruling that some of this information is stolen (or ‘misappropriated’) and in the long run that will likely have a devastating impact on Uber.”

Waymo sued Uber in February alleging the ride-hailing company is using stolen self-driving technology to build its own autonomous cars. Yesterday’s ruling prevents Uber from using Waymo’s technology on a laser navigational tool called Lidar that robotic cars use to see what’s around them.

“The bottom line is the evidence indicates that Uber hired Levandowski, even though it knew or should have known that he possessed over 14,000 confidential Waymo files,” Alsup wrote. “At least some information from those files, if not the files themselves, has seeped into Uber’s own Lidar development efforts.” Uber was ordered to return all downloaded materials to Waymo by noon on May 31.

©2017 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.