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Weekly News Review | 27 February 2017 | Automotive Purchasing and Supply Chain Automotive Purchasing and Supply Chain

Talking Point

Autonomous friction

Automakers and startups around the world are battling it out to bring autonomous software to our roads, in order to dominate an important emerging market. The road to develop these autonomous cars will not be a simple one, with strict regulations over public testing and lawsuits between rival players that could make or break a company. Due to the sheer number of new technologies and innovations surrounding the connected car, software specialists have been poached from rivals, such as Tesla’s raid of Apple, which can pose a serious problem for the employee's former company. Most of the executives making the transition are ones who focus on creating the self-driving systems, meaning that the most important information for a brand’s autonomous development lies within their hands and runs the risk of being exposed to rival companies. Within an industry that has become so secretive over its upcoming technology and ideas, this is a major issue that must be addressed - but how?

Last week, Google’s autonomous subsidiary Waymo issued a lawsuit against Uber and its self-driving truck brand Otto over claims that one of its former employees had stolen its trade secrets. Waymo believes that Uber has stolen its technology, as it has produced a LiDAR system extremely similar within the space of nine months, in comparison to Waymo’s seven year research and development project. Within the lawsuit, Waymo stated: 'Fair competition spurs new technical innovation, but what has happened here is not fair competition.'

Anthony Levandowski sits at the heart of this issue, an ex-Google employee who left the company to co-found the Otto brand, which was later acquired by Uber; Levandowski now heads its driverless car division. Waymo declares that its former employee downloaded 14,000 confidential and proprietary design files in 2015 before departing which, if true, would back up the company’s allegations over the stolen technology. There are two ways that this could go now: we could see a huge pay out to Waymo from Uber over this issue, however if Uber is found not guilty, Waymo would take a significant knock back in the autonomous race.

The underlying issue for me is that it is becoming so difficult to prove whether or not a rival company has plagiarised or stolen someone’s software, with most players going down the same route for the end product in these early stages. This is not a new strategy within the automotive industry; I have seen many top-tier executives across a range of sectors, from automakers to logistics service providers switch over to rival companies. However, with advance software this could get out of hand, as these companies solely rely on it, unlike a component or add-on technology that wouldn’t affect the business on such a significant level. If issues like this aren’t prevented, the race for autonomous glory could get very messy indeed.

Alex Kreetzer

Alex Kreetzer - Digital Editor

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