The biggest challenge in building an autonomous vehicle is giving the car the ability to see the world. It requires a thorough understanding of lidar, the radar-like system of lasers that creates the digital map each car needs to navigate the world safely and competently.Mastering lidar is essential to the technological and commercial success of robo-cars, yet there is much work to be done. Most automakers are still figuring out how to make it robust enough for automobiles, and cheap enough for consumers. Doing this demands a serious investment and expertise. Waymo, Google’s self-driving car outfit, says hundreds of its engineers spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars perfecting the company’s lidar. And it accuses Uber of stealing its work.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Waymo claims former Google employee Anthony Levandowski downloaded 14,000 technical files from a company server, then used the information to launch the autonomous truck startup Otto. Uber acquired Otto a few months later and tapped Levandowski to lead its robo-car program.