So remember the story that Curious ran about Uber indulging in self-driving cars? Well, that story and the resources within it apparently garnered a lot of attention on our website, on other website that also ran the story, and also at Google.
This is one of those court cases that will have a big impact not just on Uber, but the development of the self-driving car. What makes this even more amazing is that Google has a pretty good case here and could carry a huge impact on how this technology is produced. You see, one of the biggest challenges in building an autonomous vehicle is how you see the world, or more literally how the car sees the world.
LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging, a similar acronym and concept to RADAR, except RADAR is Radio Dectection and Ranging. LIDAR utilizes light, making it a very different kind of detection system. It creates a digital map around the car so the self-driving automobile can navigate the world safely and competently.
The problem with LIDAR is that they are very delicate and expensive. The challenge here is you’ve really got to develop a break-through technology to get a LIDAR system that is cheap enough to put on an autonomous vehicle, rugged enough to handle the environment, and—of course—makes the system affordable to the average consumer.
Google has been investing a lot of money into developing their LIDAR. They claim an investment spanning thousands of hours and millions of dollars all into perfecting the company’s LIDAR. This is not the intriguing aspect to this.
A guy by the name of Anthony Levandowski, formerly with Google, had downloaded before his departure, 14,000 technical files from their server. This data Levandowski used to create a startup company Otto, an autonomous truck company. It seems that Otto was using a LIDAR system virtually identical to the one developed at Google.
Only a few months after Otto was started, Uber acquired them. Otto had only been in business for three months, and in that short three months Levandowski and his team had developed all this autonomous vehicle technology. Which would of course be impossible in three or four months, but I can think of 14,000 reasons why Otto was able to accomplish such a feat in such a short amount of time.
A whistleblower sent an email to Google about this, referencing the Google file set so crucial to Otto’s success. So Google launched an investigation, used some digital forensic tools to look at Levandowski’s activity before leaving Google, and determined Levandowski had, in fact, had downloaded lots of files from Google. There were two other people that went with Levandowski to Otto and determined that they also downloaded a lot of files.
Anyone else hearing the Mission: Impossible theme in their heads right now?
So now Google is suing Uber as Google has been intending to sell their LIDAR system commercially. This will prove to be a major lawsuit , and it looks as if Google could actually win this thing.
While this could be a setback for Uber, I don’t think this is going to set back autonomous cars. What I think will actually happen is that when Google actually wins, that will force Uber to license the technology. Google will gladly license the LIDAR technology to Uber, meaning Uber will have paid for this system twice.
This is one of those examples where if something sounds too good to be true, question everything and ask how the improbable is made possible. Otherwise you may be at the wrong end of a very costly lesson.
A research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.