Google Waymo self-driving prototype
Google Waymo self-driving prototypeWaymo

Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Waymo, formerly Google's self-driving car unit, has filed a complaint against Otto, a self-driving trucking startup of online transportation network company Uber for allegedly stealing its confidential and proprietary sensor technology.

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Both companies are at the forefront in developing autonomous car technology. Otto was founded by former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski and quickly acquired by Uber. According to Waymo, before Levandowski's exit from then Google's Moonshot labs in January 2016, he had downloaded 14,000 "highly confidential" files to an external hard drive, including the design for the company's lidar circuit board reports

"Uber's LiDAR technology is actually Waymo's LiDAR technology," said Waymo's complaint in the Northern District of California. Waymo is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a court order preventing Uber from using its proprietary information. "The allegations made against Otto and Uber employees are serious and we will review this matter carefully," Uber responded, reports Reuters.

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging uses light pulses reflected off objects to determine position and speed of an object. It has been considered as the most crucial component of autonomous driving systems. Previous systems have been prohibitively expensive and Waymo sought to design one over 90 percent cheaper, making its LiDAR technology among the company's "most valuable assets," Waymo said.

This is not the first time Uber lands in trouble over its self-driving car initiatives. The company recently rolled out its self-driving car fleet in its hometown of San Francisco without the permission of the authorities and continued testing the cars despite repeated warnings. California Department of Motor Vehicles eventually revoked the registration of 16 Uber self-driving cars.