Tuesday, 23 May, 2017

Waymo, Lyft To Team Up On Self-Driving Vehicles

Maya Jackson a Lyft driver navigates a Lyft app on a smartphone during Lyft and Waymo are teaming up to work on self-driving cars
Jeannie Matthews | 16 May, 2017, 10:12

A judge rejected self-driving company Waymo's request Monday to order Uber to stop using technology that may have been stolen, the Verge reported.

In his ruling Monday, Judge William Alsup of U.S. District Court in San Francisco, said, "Waymo LLC has shown compelling evidence that its former star engineer, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 confidential files from Waymo immediately before leaving his employment there".

Under the order, Levandowski is barred from being involved at Uber with anything to do with LiDAR, sight based object-sensing technology used to help self-driving cars "see", at issue in the suit. The question as to whether Uber and Levandowski agreed to set up a new company - Otto, which Uber then bought for $680m - in an effort to provide a legal smokescreen for the theft of the technology is left open, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it was the case.

The decision to let Uber keep its driverless auto development going comes as Waymo teamed up with Uber's biggest rival in the US, Lyft.

This simply formalizes Levandowski's decision to voluntarily recuse himself from all work on lidar - the specific type of radar Alphabet claims he stole the designs for - ahead of the injunction hearing.

Though it now feels as if every automaker, auto parts supplier, ride-sharing service provider and his algorithm-writing cousin has an autonomous driving strategy in place, Alphabet/Google's (GOOGL) Waymo unit and Tesla Motors (TSLA) still seem to be ahead of the pack when it comes to actually bringing a vehicle that can drive itself to market.

Uber said in a statement Monday that it's pleased the court allowed it to continue self-driving vehicle research, including its own Lidar innovations.

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"Waymo's supposed trade secret is nothing more than Optics 101", Alsup chortles.

"It has become clear that Waymo has both overreached in defining its trade secrets and made moving targets out of its asserted trade secrets to evade defensive arguments".

Waymo had asked for a preliminary injunction, basically requesting that the judge shut down Uber's self-driving project. Uber also must turn over all of Levandowski's communications mentioning LiDAR. Honda is also said to be interested in a deal, wanting to use Waymo in a series of test cars.

On Monday, a USA judge ordered that Levandowski step down from Uber's self-driving work. Under these circumstances, the harm that Waymo is likely to suffer as a result of such misuse cannot be unwound after the fact, nor can it be adequately compensated for with monetary damages. In one part of the 26-page order, he goes to some lengths to explain the basic physics of optics to mock Waymo's assertion of a trade secret.

In an email, Waymo spokeswoman Natalie Raps praised the ruling. "We're looking forward to working with Lyft to explore new self-driving products that will make our roads safer and transportation more accessible", a spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., said it welcomed the order stopping Uber from using "stolen documents containing trade secrets developed by Waymo through years of research".

Uber must return the documents either to Waymo or the court by the end of this month.

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