A company, now owned by Uber, quietly bought a small firm last year that specializes in sensor technology used in autonomous vehicles. This gives the ride services company a patent in technology and possibly a defense against a trade secrets theft lawsuit filed against Uber by rival Waymo.
The small, little-known company purchased by Uber is Tyto Lida. The CEO of the company said in a May 2016 post on LinkedIn that the company had been sold, at the same time as he and three other executives joined Otto, according to their profiles on LinkedIn. It is shown in official U.S. patent data that Otto acquired Tyto technology at the same time.
Otto is a self-driving truck startup company, founded by former Alphabet employees. Otto was bought by Uber in August.
However, the very little-known acquisition of Otto might become a factor in the high-stakes legal fight between Uber and Alphabet, the parent of Google, as the two companies aggressively develop self-driving technology. It could also end up being the component of a complex litigation, which could take years to unfold.
Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car unit, sued Uber and Otto last week. The company alleges that former employee Anthony Levandowski, who left Waymo to set up Otto, downloaded and stole more than 14,000 confidential emails. The company also noted that details on light detection and ranging sensor technology, a crucial element in most self-driving car systems, was included in those emails.
Waymo claimed that without those designs, Uber could not have developed their technology as fast as they did.
In the lawsuit, Waymo also said that by mid-2016 Uber was “more than five years behind in the race to develop vehicle automation technology suitable for the mass market,” yet it built a lidar system comparable to Waymo’s “in only nine months”.
The acquisition of Tyto also means that at least two other executives with long experience in lidar, the ranging sensor technology, transferred to Otto and then to Uber.
Tyto also came to Otto first with a patent filed in 2013 for a Lidar scanner, that patent has since been reassigned to Uber, according to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office website.
An Uber spokesperson declined to comment on Tyto, citing the pending litigation. However, the spokesperson did comment on the Waymo lawsuit calling it “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.” Waymo declined to comment on Tyto.