Waymo accuses Uber of hiding a secret LiDAR device

In preparation for a preliminary injunction hearing next month, Waymo today filed new claims in its lawsuit against Uber, alleging that its competitor withheld information about technology Uber is using in its development of self-driving cars. Waymo is in the midst of a contentious lawsuit against Uber, in which it claims Anthony Levandowski, a former Google employee, stole confidential material and used it to jumpstart Uber’s self-driving program.

Uber claimed earlier this month that its LiDAR system, code-named Fuji, isn’t ready and therefore isn’t being used in its self-driving cars, which rely instead on commercial systems furnished by Velodyne. Waymo now says that Uber worked on a second system that more closely copies Waymo’s designs (Waymo’s LiDAR relies on a single-lens system, while the Fuji is multi-lens).

Waymo also claims Uber participated in a “cover up” to keep its second, un-named design hidden from the court. “They were hiding a device,” Waymo’s lawyers said.

A spokesperson for Uber told TechCrunch that this second system was never developed into a fully-realized prototype and amounted only to a few unassembled parts. These parts were shown to Waymo, Uber said.

Waymo apparently learned of the second device during an Uber employee’s deposition on April 13. Asheem Linaval, an electrical engineer at Uber who previously worked for Google and for Levandowski’s early self-driving company 510 Systems, told lawyers during the deposition that he worked on two LiDAR systems for Otto — Fuji and another system.

“It is a LiDAR that we wanted to — it was a prototype LiDAR,” Linaval said of the other system, the name of which is redacted in court filings. That and Fuji “were our only two internal LiDAR designs,” he added. 

Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Google parent company Alphabet, sued Uber in February for patent infringement and theft of trade secrets. Waymo claims that its former employee Levandowski downloaded 14,000 confidential files before leaving to launch the self-driving truck company Otto, which was acquired by Uber mere months after it debuted. Waymo argues that the 14,000 documents are being used to develop Uber’s self-driving technology, while Uber contends that the files never made it onto its servers. As for Levandowski, he’s asserted his Fifth Amendment rights broadly and hasn’t publicly addressed the allegations of theft.