Waymo tests self-driving truck amid competition, theft accusations
- Alphabet, parent company of Google, has begun testing self-driving trucks through its 2016 spin-off company Waymo, Buzzfeed reported.
- Google's work on self-driving automotive technology began in 2009. In early 2017, Waymo announced preliminary efforts toward initiating its own autonomous hardware systems.
- Trucking is viewed as a leading candidate for self-driving technology. Despite the high technological challenges, autonomous trucks can coordinate movements together to reduce wind drag and save fuel, Technology Review reported.
While the technology for self-driving trucks drives forward, Waymo currently is involved in a lawsuit with Uber, which could impact the competitive landscape.
Waymo alleges that Uber's chief developer — and former Google employee — Anthony Levandowski stole confidential files before departing to create a company called Otto. The files contained information regarding a proprietary system implementing Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a laser-based radar that capable of "seeing" oncoming traffic and pedestrians, a crucial aspect of autonomous platforms. Levandowski's start-up company Otto was quickly purchased by Uber, a competitor in the race to self-driving technology for trucking, and Levandowski was appointed head of Uber's autonomous trucking initiative.
Waymo filed suit against Uber, asserting that Otto was only a dummy corporation established so that Uber could then buy their stolen self-driving technology. A main argument within the Waymo v. Uber lawsuit is the fact that Levandowski was simultaneously consulting for Uber even as he formed Otto, just after leaving Waymo. Only six months passed before Uber acquired Otto, with Uber elevating Levandowski to direct the initiative. Uber has since fired Levandowski on May 30th.
While the case heats up amid Levandowski's departure, what remains unclear is whether Uber will continue developing self-driving trucking technology if they lose the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Tesla remains in place as a competitor for Waymo, as does Apple, Samsung, Bedaidu, Velodyne Lidar and Proterra. With such competition coming to the forefront in the race for the disruptive tech, the Waymo-Uber lawsuit may end up damaging both, allowing the myriad competitors to drive through the opening.
Follow Jennifer McKevitt on Twitter