Uber Technologies Inc. is far from the hub of innovation that investors have been praising. Recent news stories indicate that the unicorn is actually a cesspool of corruption.
Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) is alleging that Uber and the self-driving truck company Otto stole technology from its autonomous vehicle division Waymo, The Washington Post reported. The company formerly known as Google has filed a lawsuit alleging that Otto founder and former Alphabet employee Anthony Levandowski “downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems” before he left for Uber.
Google alleges Otto Founder Stole Self-Driving Car Secrets
“Otto and Uber have taken Waymo’s intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of independently developing their own technology,” the suit alleged. “Ultimately, this calculated theft reportedly netted Otto employees over half a billion dollars and allowed Uber to revive a stalled program, all at Waymo’s expense.”
Otto is the company that tested a self-driving semi-tractor in Colorado last year, a major advance in autonomous vehicle development. Alphabet’s lawsuit calls that into question and threatens Uber’s self-driving ambitions. The technology in question is LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors; which utilize laser beams to create imagery.
“With a 360-degree field of vision, and the ability to see in pitch black, Waymo’s LiDAR sensors can actually detect potential hazards that human drivers would miss,” the suit claimed.
Levandowski is now the head of Uber’s self-driving car division. Alphabet is seeking an injunction “to stop the misappropriation of our designs, return all trade secret information and cease infringing our patents.”
Uber executive Charged with Illegal Lobbying
Intellectual property theft is not the only crime allegedly occurring at Uber. A senior Uber executive was fined $90,000 by the Chicago Board of Ethics for illegally lobbying that city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
David Plouffe failed to register as a lobbyist before emailing Emanuel and talking to the Mayor about Uber’s access to Chicago’s two airports, The Chicago Tribune reported. At the time Plouffe was Uber’s senior vice president in charge of policy and strategy. Plouffe was the chief strategist in President Obama’s 2008 election campaign.
Plouffe’s illegal lobbying came to light after two open records lawsuits forced Emanuel to release hundreds of emails to reporters. Uber was trying to get regulations that limited its access to O’Hare and Midway airports; two of the nation’s busiest, modified.
It looks as if Travis Kalanick has created a cesspool of corruption that threatens the survival of his company. One has to wonder how much venture capital Uber will be able to raise now that these allegations have come to light.