News: Uber Facing Criminal Probe, Maybe Much Worse

Uber Facing Criminal Probe, Maybe Much Worse

Uber's year is going from bad to worse, and they may be subject to a potential criminal probe in the ongoing Waymo legal battle.

Judge William Alsup referred the case to the U.S. Attorney which means Travis Kalanick's company could be investigated for criminal wrongdoing, not just civil. This was literally the direct opposite of what Kalanick and co. wanted, after their request for a private arbitrator was rejected.

In the order, Judge Alsup explained that "the court takes no position on whether a prosecution is or is not warranted, a decision entirely up to the United States Attorney." Ruh Roh ...

Waymo claims Uber stole their LiDAR technology. Image via Waymo

The ride-sharing company stands accused of data theft after their former autonomous car lead, Anthony Levandowski, allegedly stole 14,000 LiDAR-related documents from Waymo. Alphabet's driverless division says that after leaving the company, Levandowski's self-driving startup Otto — bought by Uber for a cool $670 million last year — was created as a ruse and never a legitimate business.

On Thursday, a statement was issued from Waymo, addressing their Otto accusation, saying:

This was a desperate bid by Uber to avoid the court's jurisdiction. We welcome the court's decision today, and we look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct.

Uber is adamant that their LiDAR system, Fuji, wasn't ready to be tested at the time. But Waymo claims they had a second secret LiDAR, which copied their own single-lens system.

Uber said this accusation was a "misfire" and denied any wrongdoing. And although Judge Alsup said that Waymo didn't have a "smoking gun" just yet, evidently he also thinks there's no smoke without fire.

The judge issued a seal on Waymo's request for an injunction which would prevent Uber from continuing its driverless testing program.

If the injunction is granted, it could jeopardize Uber's entire future. Kalanick's company is counter-claiming that this was Waymo's intention from the get go. Waymo also asked that Levandowski was removed from Uber's driverless programs in the injunction. The engineer just left Uber's Advanced Technologies group and was replaced by Eric Meyhofer earlier this month.

The driverless dramz' just keep on coming when it comes to this case. It's understandable that Waymo wants to protect its LiDAR technology when it's considered a forerunner in the driverless game after eight years of work.

Likewise, Uber is also a contender in the field and upping its driverless game where an automated future on the horizon is of vital importance. They are trying to remain strong throughout the gale force of accusations, which keep rollin' on in. On Thursday a company spokesperson released a statement saying:

It is unfortunate that Waymo will be permitted to avoid abiding by the arbitration promise it requires its employees to make. We remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology in any forum.

If the court does side with Waymo, Uber could always source their LiDAR sensors from a third party. Regardless, it's unclear what will happen next, hence why we are all glued to this story. It's a lot like a futuristic version of Mad Men ... Only with driverless cars instead of ads and Travis Kalanick replacing Don Draper.

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Cover image by GES 2016 / Flickr.

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