Published: Thu, February 08, 2018
Markets | By Noel Gibbs

Kalanick: Uber didn't try to steal Waymo self-driving vehicle secrets

Kalanick: Uber didn't try to steal Waymo self-driving vehicle secrets

The relationship started to sour in 2014 when Uber "started hearing rumors" that Google wanted to get into ride-sharing. Steve Jobs, who was Apple's chief executive, rightly believed that Google's Android would become a competitive threat to the iPhone. He says the question here is where Levandowski ends and where Waymo begins. Uber's defence paints a different picture: one of Google seeking revenge after its plucky competitor poached its top engineer and started a driverless auto programme.

Instead, the lead attorney for Waymo, the self-driving vehicle subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, used the clip as ammunition to suggest that Uber's former CEO and a former Google engineer had abetted the theft of intellectual property.

Former Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick wrapped up his second and last day on the stand in federal court in San Francisco today by repeating his claim that he didn't hire a top Google engineer for the goal of stealing technology secrets for driverless cars. In turn, he said he chose to begin his own autonomous vehicle unit, acquiring a team from Carnegie Mellon University in the spring of 2015.

"It all really comes down to what particular information did they use and should they have realized that the engineer from Google had obtained it in violation of the law", said Franklin. "He was sort of a little angsty and said, 'Why are you doing my thing?'" In July 2016, Uber-which had long relied in part on Google's mapping technology to power its maps and navigation-was said to be investing half a billion dollars in creating its own worldwide mapping system, lessening its reliance on Google.

Bill Carmody, representing Uber, said the "elephant in the courtroom" was that, despite the downloads by Levandowski, no Google information made it into Uber's self-driving technology.

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After leaving Google, Levandowski formed a self-driving truck company called Otto. Dressed in a navy suit and tie, Kalanick presented himself as humble and obliging in the face of questioning, taking regular sips from a water bottle.

By August 2016, with the Waze carpooling service expanding in the Bay Area and Uber going fully into developing self-driving cars, Drummond left Uber's board, citing increasing conflicts of interest. That included being shown a text exchange between Kalanick and Anthony Levandowski - whom Kalanick had hired to run Uber's self-driving program - where both agreed that "second place is first loser" in the race to win the autonomous vehicle market. Mr. Kalanick said this wasn't the first time he had heard this; it was something his high school football coach had said.

Kalanick laughed when the Waymo attorney jogged his memory and asked if the former CEO called Levandowski "a brother from another mother". Instead, it came in the form of a clip from the 1987 film Wall Street and showed Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko proclaiming, "Greed is good". His emoji response was a hint. Uber's lawyer asked his former CEO.

"Cheat codes are like elegant solutions to problems that haven't yet been thought of", he said. Tesla, for example, has customers pay tens of thousands for cars but loads those vehicles with sensors that provide data to support its self-driving auto efforts.

Notes taken from some of those meetings said Kalanick expressed his desire for a "pound of flesh" and "all their data" for Uber, without providing more specifics.

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Without perfecting the technology, the dream of a self-driving is just that - a dream - and Uber's own estimates are that with its own LIDAR sensors, the taxi app company could remove its largest overhead, and one that accounts for 70-80 per cent of its costs: human drivers.

Mr. Page has personally invested in flying auto technology, although it is not clear whether Alphabet is working on it.

Uber's defense is expected to argue that Google's lawsuit is an attempt to retaliate against Uber for poaching one of its talented engineers.

During the conversation, Kalanick disputed that Google employees were intellectual property. He liked "being in the trenches" with small teams.

That's how Kalanick described Levandowski, despite moments later admitting hiring Levandowski turned into a mess.

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