Since my post a few days ago on the Uber-Alphabet lawsuit, there have been a few new developments.
Levandowski consulting for Uber
In that post I wrote:
… no funding appears to have been taken from Uber, or any other company (If there turn out to be payments from Uber to Otto prior to the acquisition then that would be Very Bad for Uber).
Not long after, Johana Bhuiyan at Recode posted a story which suggests that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick hired Otto CEO Anthony Levandowski as a consultant for Uber’s self-driving car around February-March 2016. Even after reading the article several times and sleeping on it, I still can’t quite believe it.
Now, sources are adding more to that claim. Kalanick hired Levandowski as a consultant to Uber’s fledgling self-driving effort as early as February 2016, six months before Levandowski publicly got his company off the ground, according to three sources.
If this was a legitimate business arrangement, the timing makes no sense at all. Levandowski had just left Waymo weeks earlier. While it might have been difficult for Alphabet to bring a lawsuit on these grounds, the optics for Levandowski advising Uber are terrible. Additionally, Uber and Otto are competitors in the self-driving vehicle space, and Uber is famously aggressive. That a CEO of one company would be advising one of their direct competitors within months of forming their own self-funded startup is truly strange.
If this wasn’t a legitimate business arrangement, then it also doesn’t make much sense purely because it looks so suspicious, especially in light of Alphabet’s trade secrets lawsuit. It brings the start of Uber’s direct involvement with Otto to within weeks of Otto being formed. If the plan all along was for Otto to join Uber, then it does make some kind of twisted sense for him to be advising the Uber self-driving car team.
A little birdie tells me that we haven’t seen the last on this particular thread of the story.
Naked Capitalism on Uber
Hubert Horan has just published another article in his series on Uber and whether it can ever increase overall economic welfare.
The answer is that Uber is attempting to implement an innovative and disruptive strategy for achieving market control — a strategy radical different from every prior tech oriented startup — but those disruptive innovations have nothing to do with technology or the efficient production of urban car services.
Otto purchased another Lidar company
A reader sent me a link to this article by Reuters discussing an acquisition of Tyto LIDAR. The title is “Uber’s self-driving unit quietly bought firm with tech at heart of Alphabet lawsuit”. The title isn’t accurate, as it was Otto that acquired Tyto (for an undisclosed sum) in May 2016. Uber then acquired Otto/Tyto in August 2016.
Levandowski: “We did not steal any Google IP”
Forbes published an article on 28 February, 2017 which contains part of an interview they did with Levandowski in October 2016.
Q: The question is, Google has been working on this for however many years. You guys (Otto) are a year old or something like that.
A: We started in January. How did we catch up?
We did not steal any Google IP. Just want to make sure, super clear on that. We built everything from scratch and we have all of the logs to make that—just to be super clear.
But this is my fourth autonomy stack. I did the DARPA Grand Challenge.
I wonder if “we have all of the logs” is also going to be Alphabet counsel’s opening argument?