Uber's Kalanick says Google relationship soured after autonomous vehicle development

Travis Kalanick: “We had been going to them (Google) really interested in partnering in some fashion. Maybe we could find a way to take our efforts to partner and get to the future faster. And they were generally not receptive.” Photo credit: Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick once thought of the company suing Uber as a “big brother.”

In his testimony Wednesday during the trial to hear Google self-driving subsidiary Waymo’s lawsuit accusing Uber of stealing trade secrets, Kalanick said he had repeatedly tried to partner with the search engine giant on an autonomous vehicle ride-hailing service. The former executive said Uber eventually decided to start its own autonomous vehicle development after repeated requests for meetings were ignored.

“We had been going to them really interested in partnering in some fashion,” Kalanick said. “Maybe we could find a way to take our efforts to partner and get to the future faster. And they were generally not receptive.”

Karen Dunn, an attorney from Boies Schiller Flexner representing Uber, showed emails Kalanick received reporting rumors that Google was launching its own robotaxi service. The former executive said he repeatedly tried to meet with the tech giant, which had invested in Uber in 2013, to partner on the service.

In 2015, Uber acquired a robotics startup formed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, launching its Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh focused on the development of autonomous vehicles.

Google, which had publicly begun its own self-driving research in 2014, was “unpumped,” Kalanick said.

“Larry [Page, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet] was fairly upset with us for acquiringthe CMU team and starting autonomous vehicles for ourselves,” the former Uber executive said. “He got all angsty and said, ‘Why are you doing my thing?’ ”

Before the acquisition, Kalanick said Google and Uber’s relationship had been positive, describing Uber as the “little brother” who wanted more time from Google “than they may have been willing to give.”

He added that the relationship continued to sour after Uber acquired former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski’s startup, Otto, in August 2016. Kalanick said Page called him in October 2016, accusing him of taking Google’s people and intellectual property, though he did not specifically mention Levandowski or the trade secrets disputed in the current lawsuit.

Kalanick also explained the bellicose language detailed in former Uber manager John Bares’ notes. He described “cheat codes” as “elegant solutions to problems that haven’t been thought of before,” such as the sensors equipped on Tesla vehicles collecting data to improve the automaker’s self-driving software.

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