Saturday, February 25, 2017

(The Big Disrupt) Driveless cars: Google vs Uber

If you’re like most people, you hate your morning commute. It’s an unfortunate fact of life for many of us. Bus, train, car, or subway, many of us have to get from point A to point B for a variety of reasons. The internet may be a killer tool and fun place to play, but the fact remains that certain activities simply cannot be accomplished on a computer.

There is up and coming technology that may change how we understand, and use, transportation: self-driving vehicles. These machines have long been the topic of intrigue, but the idea has only been taken seriously since the turn of the century. In the early 2000’s a number of auto manufacturers started taking an interest in autonomous vehicles. Big names like Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, and Tesla, to name just a few. In 2015, five states in the USA were pioneers that allowed for the testing of such vehicles on their roads (under heavy regulation).

As one can expect, there is fierce competition around this topic. Just like Bell Telephone and other industry pioneers, there is a lot money to be made as the first to a new market. And where there is big money, there are big risk-takers. Case in point: Google just filed a suit against the freelance taxi company, Uber, on February 23rd, 2017 (WIRED). The basis for this suit is Google’s allegation that a former Google employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole proprietary information and, after resigning, used that information to start a self-driving truck company. This trucking company, Otto, was recently acquired by Uber. As part of the acquisition Levandowski was placed in charge of their self-driving tech. According to the NY Times the acquisition happened about seven months after Levandowski left Google.

It certainly seems suspicious doesn’t it?

As the sparks fly between Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and Uber it is worth noting that the two companies have friendly ties in their past. Alphabet had invested in Uber once upon a time and even shared an executive with Uber’s board of directors. Oddly enough, that executive had stepped down due to ‘overlap between the two companies’ shortly before the theft is reported to have happened. Coincidence?

The more tech we invent and involve in business, the more frequently this is going to happen. It is getting easier and easier to pull stunts like this and, most likely, what we see publicly is not the half of it. A person no longer has to be an ‘expert’ to be able to accomplish these acts. There are plenty of people out there who are motivated by money and all it takes is with a thumb drive and the right motivation. As life and business become easier and more streamlined with new technology, so too does corporate espionage.

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