Waymo LiDAR Costs 10% Less Than Similar Tech, Lawsuit Claims | Auto Finance News | Auto Finance News

Waymo LiDAR Costs 10% Less Than Similar Tech, Lawsuit Claims

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Waymo’s proprietary in-house LiDAR designs — which the company claims Uber and Otto have stolen — cost less than 10% of the benchmark LiDAR systems available just a few years ago.

That, according to an Auto Finance News investigation of Waymo’s civil complain against Uber and Otto.

This alleged-tech theft has reportedly netted Otto employees more than $500 million — and allowed Uber to revive a stalled program (Otto), at Waymo’s expense.

Mass production of this technology could make it even more affordable.

By designing its own LiDAR systems, Waymo — Google’s self-driving car subsidiary — has driven down costs, a well-known barrier to commercializing self-driving technology.

Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber and its Otto self-driving tech unit for patent infringement all stemmed from one errant email. The lawsuit alleges that former Google employee Anthony Levandowski downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s confidential files, 2 GBs of which were related to Waymo’s LiDAR technology. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.

In December 2016, Waymo was inadvertently copied on an email from one of its LiDAR component vendors, which included machine drawings of an Uber LiDAR circuit board — which bore a resemblance to Waymo’s proprietary design.

But the lawsuit also offers a unique window into Waymo’s technology. Waymo, in a cost-savings play, has been developing and testing its own design for LiDAR for seven years, perfecting the technology along the way, and implementing at least three unique patented designs. One of Waymo’s patented designs include using a single lens, rather than multiple sets, to transmit laser beams used to scan the environment. This design simplifies the manufacturing process by eliminating the need to align pairs of lenses.

Another patent simplifies the design of the laser diode firing circuit to control the charging and discharging paths of the lasers, compared to the more complicated circuit designs otherwise used by the industry, according to the court document. Waymo also developed a simplified design for making the light output of each laser diode parallel separately, before the beams are combined.

The email accidentally sent to Waymo spurred a dog-hunt for confirmation that Uber stole Waymo’s trade secrets. After obtaining public records from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Department of Motor Vehicles in February 2016, Waymo learned that Otto had developed an in-house, custom-built 64-laser LiDAR system.

For Waymo, this was the final piece of the LiDAR puzzle, confirming that Uber and Otto are using a custom LiDAR system with the same characteristics as Waymo’s proprietary system.

“Fair competition spurs new technical innovation, but what has happened here is not fair competition,” Waymo said in the complaint. “Instead, 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.”

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