04.07.17 - Anthony Levandowski

As Allies Become Rivals

In General by Jesseb Shiloh

The problem with partnerships in any industry is what happens when these partnerships are dissolved. Now, more than ever, we’re seeing car companies that combine efforts to build features that are meant to improve the quality we enjoy and advance the technology of the industry. One recent example of collaboration is the development of the nine and ten-speed automatic transmissions between Ford and GM that are being used on newer models from each company. The problem that can occur out of rival partnerships is when the two sides split and there’s no clearly defined line drawn in the sand.

At one time Uber and Google were partners in the race to produce the self-driving cars of the future. Google had invested large sums of money into Uber to help it begin to advance this technology forward. Google has been working on the self-driving tech program for over eight years already and with that some of the leaders of the project have left for other business opportunities. One such case was the departure of Anthony Levandowski who left to found Otto which is a self-driving big-rig truck company. Just last year though, Uber purchased Otto and now Levandowski is working for Uber to develop cars that will be driven by robots.

Can you see how the waters of the self-driving industry can become quickly muddied in this case? Google is now claiming that Uber is using some of their proprietary software ideas, which they seem to think came directly from Levandowski. Over the past several months Google has transitioned their self-driving tech to a new project name under the company called Waymo. This chance took place as the project grew into something new for Google and it needed to become a separate entity altogether for the company under the Alphabet Inc. group of companies.

With a lawsuit filed by Waymo the two brands are quickly becoming rivals when it comes to the ride sharing programs. Waymo is also working to step on the territory once only held by Uber by creating a carpooling service that could be a way to gain riders that once relied upon Uber for their transportation needs. This new service is called Waze and the rivalry alone caused one of the top Google executives to resign from Uber’s board of directors because of the competitive difference and a serious conflict of interests between the two companies.

Making the lawsuit complaint more interesting, Google is claiming Levandowski loaded 14,000 confidential files on a laptop before he left for Otto. These files are said to include designs for circuit boards that are needed for the “LiDAR” system which is the main brain of the system of sensors that can allow a self-driving car to see what’s around the vehicle and navigate the roads. If this is true, Google could have a serious claim to some form of restitution from Levandowski and even Uber which appears to be using a similar system to the one Google created for their autonomous vehicles.

While Uber has already been known to test the gray area of the world and not live in the black and white as much, this could be one case where the company is in serious trouble. Google’s claim to the proprietary software and designs could have some merit if proved in court and cost Uber and Levandowski a large amount of money. While, if true, there were lines that were seriously crossed, you can plainly see how a partnership can cause problems when its dissolved. Certainly Levandowski felt some of the work he’d done warranted him taking files (again, if the allegations are true) but that’s likely not the case. This will be an interesting case to continue to follow forward and see how it turns out.