Uber and Alphabet are in the midst of a legal battle that could have long-lasting ramifications on the development of self-driving car technology.
Allegations of reverse engineering, patent infringement, and even IP theft, though, are not new to autonomous car development or the tech industry more broadly. The newest claims from Alphabet point to a highly contentious battle over self-driving car technology in the years to come.
Here’s a brief summary of the complaints:
- Alphabet asserted that former automotive engineer Anthony Levandowski, and other engineers who left the company to found a startup, Otto, downloaded propriety data from what is now Waymo, and that this data eventually made its way into Otto’s technology.
- Alphabet also alleges that Uber had hired Levandowski as a consultant months before he founded Otto. The ride-hailing company purchased Otto in August 2016 for $680 million, bringing Levandowski and his team onboard to augment Uber’s autonomous development efforts.
- One key item they point to is a LiDAR circuit board that Alphabet attorneys claim is covered by Waymo patents.
Alphabet’s allegations are far-reaching, claiming both patent infringement and willful theft of proprietary technology. It will be years before there's any decision rendered on this case. Attorneys and experts on both sides will pore over statutes, patents, software code, and communications between the involved parties to build up their cases. Alphabet has requested that the court issue a temporary injunction, though, requiring Uber to cease testing and development of autonomous vehicles using any potentially stolen technology.
This alone would be a major setback for Uber, greatly slowing down the development of its self-driving platform as it races to get to market. It would potentially have to cease ongoing tests in Pittsburgh and upcoming trials in Arizona and California.
This early legal wrangling recalls Apple and Samsung’s long-running court cases, stemming from the development of smartphones. The companies exchanged lawsuits with numerous allegations of patent infringement. One of the most notable rulings, issued in early 2016, banned further US sales of eight Samsung phones, though all had been released years before and superseded by newer models. Samsung had been found to infringe on Apple patents, including “slide-to-unlock” functionality. Adding to the parallels, the companies in this automotive dispute are employing the same legal representation as the smartphone makers.
The long-term ramifications for Uber, though, could be dramatic. Should Alphabet’s claims be accepted, a court could order Uber to remove any possibly compromised code from its autonomous vehicle platform. Unlike Samsung, which was able to cease sales of older phones and update software in later iterations to remove potentially infringing features, Uber would likely have major difficulty extricating the code and hardware in question, as it's far more critical to self-driving vehicles than something like a mode of unlocking is to a phone. While it will build a case to refute Alphabet’s claim, Uber’s autonomous development will be pushed under a cloud of uncertainty. Uber could be set back over a year in autonomous vehicle development, forced to return to the drawing board to come up with new methods and different software that might make Uber a late arriver to the self-driving party.
The self-driving car is no longer a futuristic fantasy. Consumers can already buy vehicles that, within a few years time, will get software updates enabling them to hit the road without the need for a driver.
This autonomous revolution will upend the automotive sector and disrupt huge swaths of the economy, while radically improving energy efficiency and changing the way people approach transport around the world.
Automakers and tech companies are racing to develop the technology that will power self-driving cars in the coming years. That tech is advancing, but leaves observers with a bigger question: will consumers trust driverless car tech, and will they want to use autonomous cars?
Peter Newman, research analyst for BI Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, has compiled a detailed report on self-driving cars that analyzes the market, and forecasts vehicle shipments and market penetration. It also profiles the players expected to take on a prominent role in the autonomous future, examines the barriers to autonomous car development and adoption, and reviews developments in technology, regulation, and consumer sentiment. Finally, it analyzes the impact the introduction of autonomy will have on various industries and transport trends.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:
- Self-driving cars are coming; there will be fully autonomous cars on the roads in the US in 2018, and adoption will just take off from there.
- The technology is developing swiftly to allow fully self-driving vehicles, while the regulatory environment is adapting to the anticipated changes that this new technology will bring.
- We conducted a survey asking our exclusive BI Insiders panel about their thoughts on self-driving cars, the future of the automotive industry, and the impact autonomous vehicles will have on their purchasing habits moving forward. The results provide a picture of consumer sentiment at the precipice of the autonomous era.
In full, the report:
- Sizes the current and future self-driving car market, forecasting shipments and projecting installed base.
- Explains the current state of technology, regulation, and consumer perception.
- Analyzes how the development of autonomous cars will impact employment and the economy.
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