Tue, Mar 07, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Alphabet’s Uber suit is end of uneasy marriage

SHOWDOWN:Alphabet alleges that Anthony Levandowski downloaded 14,000 design documents and used them to create Uber’s key autonomous vehicle technology, Lidar

Reuters, SAN FRANCISCO

Separately, Google senior vice president of corporate development David Drummond had a social relationship with Kalanick and he joined the board.

A ride in a self-driving car and a meeting with Google chief executive Larry Page, recounted in Brad Stone’s book The Upstarts, seemed to bode well for the relationship, but conflicts emerged immediately. Kalanick, a tough negotiator, wanted a discount on the software tools behind Google Maps, the company’s ubiquitous mapping software, according to a person close to the transaction. The best GV could offer was close contact between Uber and Google’s mapping teams, the person said.

Kalanick also wanted Uber to be featured prominently in Google Maps, eventually giving customers a way to hail an Uber ride directly from Google Maps, and Google agreed, a source close to Uber said.

However, Uber felt Google dragged its heels on the integration and found the initial rollout disappointing, the source said.

The friction only grew as Uber turned its attention to autonomous driving, an area where Google had already established an early lead. Uber announced its intentions in typically abrupt style in early 2015, poaching 40 faculty and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to set up a self-driving laboratory in Pennsylvania.

It bought mapping software firm deCarta and began investing heavily in its own mapping systems.

Meanwhile, Google launched an on-demand delivery service, a market Uber is also chasing, and began offering a carpooling service through driving app Waze, which it acquired in 2013. The carpooling feature in particular rankled Uber, a source close to the company said.

“Things escalated from ‘frenemy’ to now enemy quite quickly,” said Anand Sanwal, chief executive and cofounder of venture capital research firm CB Insights.

The tension bubbled to the surface in August last year when Drummond stepped down from Uber’s board.

Uber declined comment on any of its dealings with Google and did not make Kalanick available for an interview.

Uber’s aggressive culture was the subject of many conversations at GV, a source close to the transaction said. Hoping to influence the start-up, the venture capital firm at first encouraged a flow of talent from Google to Uber. Yet that, too, ultimately created problems.

Anthony Levandowski, a key engineering manager at the self-driving car unit, now Waymo, began to talk openly about leaving the company as the autonomous vehicle field blossomed, according to Alphabet’s lawsuit.

In January last year, Levandowski and some colleagues quit Alphabet to form the self-driving truck start-up Otto, which Uber acquired later that year for US$680 million. Alphabet claims in its lawsuit that Levandowski had been in touch with Uber even before he left Alphabet.

In the lawsuit, Alphabet alleges Levandowski downloaded 14,000 proprietary design documents and used them to create Otto’s — and later Uber’s — version of a key autonomous vehicle technology called Lidar, which uses light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position.

Uber and Levandowski deny the allegations.

The high-stakes legal showdown over whether vital information was transferred between the two companies is perhaps the logical conclusion of their opaque relationship.

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