A self-driving car company founded by Google is colliding with ride-haling service Uber in a court battle revolving around allegations of betrayal, high-tech espionage and greed.
The brewing showdown emerged late Thursday in a lawsuit filed in a San Francisco federal court by Waymo, a once-secretive self-driving company hatched by Google eight years ago.
The 28-page complaint accuses Anthony Levandowski, a former top manager for Google’s self-driving car project, of stealing pivotal technology now propelling Uber’s effort to assemble a fleet of autonomous vehicles for its ride-hailing service.
The alleged chicanery occurred in late 2015, before Levandowski left to found a startup called Otto that is building big-rig trucks that navigate highways without a human behind the wheel. Uber bought Otto for $680 million US last year, and Levandowski is now overseeing Uber’s effort to develop and dispatch cars driven by robots.
Uber and Levandowski didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The dispute highlights the high stakes in the race to build self-driving cars that promise not only to revolutionize the way people get around but also the automobile industry. Waymo and Uber are two of the early leaders, while long-established car companies such as Ford, Toyota and General Motors are scrambling to catch up.
Waymo’s lawsuit also will escalate the tensions between Google and Uber, two one-time allies that are morphing into rivals. Google invested $258 million US in Uber, but its mapping subsidiary Waze is now expanding a carpooling service that could lure riders away from Uber. The budding rivalry prompted a top Google executive, David Drummond, to resign from Uber’s board of directors six months ago.
Waymo now operates as a subsidiary of Google’s corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., but its roots are in Google, where Levandowski worked for years.
The complaint cites evidence Levandowski loaded 14,000 confidential files on a laptop before leaving…