Weekly Brief: Uber’s driverless programme survives theft charge… for now

Waymo is searching for a smoking gun to bring Uber’s self-driving car programme to its knees. Andrew Tolve reports.

Uber's self-driving car programme lives to fight another day. Despite a ruckus day in court, in which Google’s self-driving car company Waymo fired a barrage of allegations at the ridesharing giant, including corporate theft and an elaborate “cover up scheme”, the judge presiding over the case declared that Waymo lacked a “smoking gun”. Until it can produce one, the judge is refusing to issue a temporary injunction and Uber's self-driving car research will continue unabated.

Even without a dramatic conclusion, the hearing produced lots of juicy details into one of the most daring and well documented cases of corporate theft in years. Waymo produced evidence that its former head of self-driving cars, Anthony Levandowski, stole 14,000 documents before leaving to start his own self-driving car start up, Otto, which Uber acquired a few months after it came out of stealth mode for $680M (£523M). Waymo alleges that Uber and Levandowski were in cahoots all along and that the Otto start-up was just a decoy to obscure their collusion. Waymo pointed to the fact that Uber paid Levandowski $250M in Uber stock the day after he left Google.

Levandowski pleaded the fifth and, lacking any further evidence of Uber conspiring, the judge said it's impossible to rule out that Uber could be innocent in all of this. Perhaps Levandowski was the only one who knew about his own malfeasance? “Here’s the thing,” the judge said. “You didn’t sue him. You sued Uber. So what if it turns out that Uber is totally innocent?”

What next? Uber would prefer for the case to be settled in private arbitration and it probably will be owing to the mandatory arbitration clause in Google employee contracts. Waymo wants a jury trial in October. Levandowski announced that he’s abdicating his role as head of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group but will stay on at the company.

In other news, SiriusXM expanded beyond in-car entertainment with the $115M acquisition of Automatic, a connected car service provider. Automatic's offerings range from vehicle diagnostic alerts to emergency crash assistance, fuel monitoring, access to parking information and live vehicle location tracking. Automatic also works with insurance carriers to enable usage-based savings and teen driver coaching, and works with automotive dealers to provide tools that help manage their vehicle inventory and customer service relationships. The SiriusXM and Automatic brands will remain separate.

A year after launch Toyota’s mobility company Toyota Connected announced that it’s planning to double its workforce to 200. The additional manpower will help Toyota Connected develop Toyota’s Mobility Services Platform, a global, cloud-based digital ecosystem that enables a host of mobility services such as ridesharing, car-sharing and remote delivery. The company is already working on car and ridesharing trials with Toyota.

A new smartphone app called Good2Drive allows drivers, corporate fleets and law enforcement to test a driver's cognitive alertness before getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Good2Drive uses a 60-90 second image matching test to determine whether a driver is too drunk, stoned, high or just weary to pull off the tasks that driving a car, van or big rig requires. A free trial version of Good2Drive will be available shortly on both iOS and Android devices.

Grimmannounced that it will break ground on a car-hacking lab in Michigan later this year.  The Lab will conduct end-to-end hardware and software vulnerability assessments for automakers and Tier 1 suppliers. It will also have classroom training space where Grimm experts will teach hands-on advanced courseware for automotive and ICS security.

Ford drivers with the Sync 3 infotainment platform can now pay for fuel from the comfort of their cars. The updated ExxonMobile Speedpass+ app connects to Sync 3 via Ford's AppLink technology, making it the first app to connect a car with mobile fuel payment in the United States. The cashless payment app also earns and redeems loyalty points and manages receipts at approximately 10,000 participating Exxon and Mobil stations across the US.

Finally, Nissan debuted a concept for how to curb the texting while driving epidemic in the UK: a lock box that sits under the armrest and creates a “silent zone”, blocking all of a smartphone's incoming and outgoing cellular, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections. It's called the Nissan Signal Shield and it’s based on an invention called a Faraday cage, which dates back to the 1830s. Nissan has installed the prototype on the Nissan Jake.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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