Waymo Claims Uber Hid Lidar Sensors Based on Its Tech

The legal drama between Google's former self-driving car division and Silicon Valley's largest ride-hailing company heats up. 

Anthony Levandowski
Eric Risberg—AP

The legal drama between Waymo and Uber shows no signs of slowing down. Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, is suing Uber over what it claims are stolen autonomous-car secrets, and the company is now doubling down on those claims. Waymo now says Uber hid the existence of a lidar device based on its technology, according to Bloomberg. It claims the device was developed by former engineer Anthony Levandowski using stolen information. 

In its lawsuit, Waymo accuses Levandowski of stealing 14,000 computer files and using the information to form a startup, Otto, which was bought by Uber last year. 

Lidar is similar in principle to radar, but uses laser light instead of radio waves. Most of the major players in autonomous driving consider it a vital component of the array of sensors that allow self-driving cars to "see" their environment. Waymo is using the allegedly-hidden lidar device as ammunition in an argument that Levandowski should be barred from continuing to work on Uber's self-driving car program.

In court documents, Waymo said Uber hid the device, and that it was only revealed after an Uber engineer "was forced to admit it existed." But Uber spokesman Matt Kallman told Bloomberg that Uber had actually made the device available to Waymo to inspect and photograph, as part of court-ordered information sharing. Kallman said the device in question was abandoned before it even reached the prototype phase.

Levandowski pleaded the Fifth Amendment, and so far, Uber has fought the lawsuit without his testimony. Uber has argued that the case should be pursued entirely in arbitration, because it involves actions Levandowski took while he was still a Waymo employee. 

Waymo is already involved in arbitration with Levandowski and Otto co-founder Lior Ron, alongside the Uber lawsuit.