The drama continues! In the latest installment of the feud that has rocked the driverless vehicle industry, Waymo is now accusing Uber of withholding a secret LiDAR device.
As we know, LiDAR sensors map objects in 3-D, bouncing lasers off real-life surroundings that allows autonomous cars to locate themselves on a map. This also helps them to "see" pedestrians and other things autonomous vehicles need to be aware of to successfully complete their journey. Now that Uber and Toyota have joined Waymo on the LiDAR bandwagon, there is a mad dash for the technology that has resulted in LiDAR lag. Or put another way, there's just not enough of the technology to meet the demand generated by these competing companies.
That current bottleneck makes this latest accusation by Waymo so compelling. If Uber has a secret LiDAR device, could the company also possess the breakthrough the industry needs to end the laser shortage?
The specifics of the latest allegation breaks down like this: Uber claims that their LiDAR system, Fuji, isn't ready to be tested in driverless vehicles, but Waymo begs to differ. The Alphabet division alleges Uber has a second secret LiDAR, which is a little too similar to their single-lens system. Waymo's lawyers claim that Travis Kalanick's ride-sharing company are deliberately "hiding a device" to cover up their LiDAR-lies.
However, Uber insists that there is nothing to see here, telling TechCrunch that the second "secret" system is comprised of a few unassembled parts. They said that Waymo were well aware of this and had even seen the parts in question.
Now combined that accusation with the previous ones of data theft and we have a situation here that could rage on for years.
This new accusation came to light during the deposition on April 13 when Uber engineer and a former Google contractor, Asheem Linaval, revealed that he had worked on two LiDAR designs for Otto, the self-driving technology company acquired by Uber last year. Irritatingly, the name of the mysterious second device has been redacted from court documents. Linaval said that the second system was a "prototype LiDAR." So, that is all we have to work with at the present moment.
We really don't know what to believe at this point, but what we do know is that this court case is just another spoke in Uber's wheel of misfortune this year. The company's PR department has certainly had their work cut out for them as driverless vehicles have crashed, executives have quit, and accusations of sexism have surfaced.
All this drama has not stopped Uber from expanding its driverless research center in Pittsburgh, however. Earlier this week, a spokesperson told Driverless that they were "continuing to recruit the top minds in AI, robotics, and engineering as we ramp up our investment in self-driving technology." It's possible that if Uber does not yet have a second LiDAR device, the team in Pittsburgh could be responsible for creating one.
As of April 22, Uber has advertised 55 new roles in the Career section of their website, 54 of which are located in their Pennsylvania facility and primarily in their Advanced Technologies Group. It is not clear whether these are new roles, or replacing staff. Uber told Driverless that the recruitment drive in Pittsburgh was due to a natural maturation of that sector, which marked its two-year anniversary in January 2017.
Well, at least they're being positive: we don't know if we would be so upbeat if Waymo was accusing us of stealing 14,000 confidential documents ... Evidently, none of the companies involved are going to ramp down their efforts to emerge as the driverless champ. What remains to be seen is whether Uber can wriggle its way out of the latest LieDAR accusation from Waymo.