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Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 11:26 AM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 11:25 AM
SAN FRANCISCO — Uber is paying $245 million to Google's self-driving car spinoff to end a legal brawl that aired out allegations of a sinister scheme that tore apart the once-friendly companies.
The surprise settlement announced Friday came as lawyers for Uber and Waymo, a company hatched from Google, prepared to wrap up the first week of a trial that had attracted international attention.
Waymo filed its lawsuit nearly a year ago , adding to Uber's woes with allegations of a bold high-tech heist orchestrated by its former CEO, Travis Kalanick, and a former Google engineer. That engineer, Anthony Levandowski, subsequently went to work for Uber, and was later fired when he declined to answer questions about the theft charges, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Uber and its ride-hailing service had already been tarnished by the company's acknowledgement of rampant sexual harassment within its ranks, a yearlong cover-up of a major computer break-in, and the use of duplicitous software to thwart government regulators.
As with most settlements, the truce required some compromise by both sides. Uber had initially offered to settle the case for $490 million just before the start of the trial Monday, but that agreement didn't provide Waymo with enough assurances that its technology wouldn't be improperly used, according to two people familiar with the thinking of both parties in the lawsuit. The people asked not to be identified because the settlement talks were confidential.
Not long after Thursday's trial proceedings ended, the top lawyers from both companies, Uber's Tony West and Waymo's Kevin Vosen, met to hammer out an agreement. The resulting compromise cut Uber's payment in half, but provided Waymo with the guarantees that it wanted to prevent its technology from being used in Uber's autonomous cars.
The payment, to be made in Uber's stock, is a fraction of the nearly $2 billion in damages that a Waymo expert had estimated Uber's alleged theft had caused. But U.S. District Judge William Alsup had refused to allow Waymo to use that figure in the trial.
"This has the look of two companies trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat," said Dan Handman, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in trade secrets for the firm Hirschfeld Kraemer. "You try to structure a settlement so both sides can spin it as a win-win situation."
A settlement in the middle of a trial is highly unusual, but both companies had motives for doing so in this case.
Kalanick, a polarizing figure who resigned as Uber's CEO last June, had already spent part of two days on the stand reviewing old texts between him and Levandowski indicating that they were willing to go to any lengths to catch up with a self-driving car project that Google started in 2009. The texts included snippets such as "second place is first looser (sic)," ''burn the village," and a link to a video clip from the 1987 film "Wall Street" featuring a character hailing the virtues of unbridled greed.
Levandowski was also set to take the stand Monday, when he was expected once again to repeatedly take the Fifth, a move that Uber's lawyers feared would prejudice the 10-person jury against the company. "The optics of someone not wanting to incriminate himself in front of a jury in a civil case are terrible," Handman said.
Uber's settlement won't necessarily help Levandowski, though. The U.S. Justice Department opened a criminal probe at the prodding of Alsup, although it hasn't publicly identified the targets of that investigation.
Waymo alleged that Levandowski heisted its technology and took it to Uber via a startup he founded and which Uber purchased a few months later for $680 million. Uber denied using any Google technology to build a fleet of self-driving cars.
Including the settlement, the cost of that Otto deal is now nearly $1 billion, without factoring in Uber's legal bills in the case. It's a deal that one of Uber's own attorneys acknowledged the company now regrets.
"Knowing everything we know, Uber regrets ever bringing Anthony Levandowski on board," Uber lawyer William Carmody told the jury in his opening statement. "And the reason they do so is because for all his time at Uber, all Uber has to show for Anthony Levandowski is this lawsuit."
But the settlement at least removes a dark cloud that Uber didn't want looming when it offers its stock to the public — something its current CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, plans to pursue next year. The settlement also covers more than 100 other trade secrets that Waymo alleges Levandowski stole. Waymo could have filed additional claims against Uber in the months and years ahead, but that's no longer a possibility unless Waymo finds additional evidence of Uber using its technology.
"If you are an Uber investor, you should be pleased with the outcome, given what could have happened if they had lost," said Rohit Kulkarni, managing director of SharesPost, a research group focused on privately held companies.
For Waymo, the settlement protects the technology that has vaulted it into the early lead in the self-driving car market and provides a measure of personal vindication for Google co-founder Larry Page, who is now CEO of Alphabet Inc., the parent of both Waymo and Google.
According to Kalanick's testimony, Page had become "very upset" in 2015 when he learned Uber had hired robotics engineers from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh for its own self-driving car division. "He sort of was a little angsty and said, 'Why are you doing my thing?'" Kalanick recalled.
The settlement also means Page won't have to appear on the stand himself.
Alphabet had another reason to settle. It was an early investor in Uber and, although it sold some of its stock late last year, it still holds a significant stake in Uber. The settlement gives Alphabet an additional 0.34 percent of Uber's outstanding stock, based on an investment round that placed the company's market value at $72 billion. The final value of the settlement could swing up or down, depending on how much Uber is worth when it goes public.
"We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each company develops its own technology," Waymo said in its statement.
Published: Monday, January 23, 2017 @ 1:10 PM
— In the large list of calamities that could happen to you on a given day (let’s not dwell on the possibilities), forgetting your wallet at home is a pretty minor one.
It happened to me recently and would have been absolutely no big deal, except…
1. I live about 45 minutes outside of Austin and didn’t realize the wallet was missing until I was long gone. I couldn’t just run home on a break and retrieve it.
2. I didn’t have any cash of any kind around. There was no $20 bill hiding in my car’s glove compartment or an envelope of petty cash in my desk. I was without dollars, completely.
3. I didn’t bring a lunch to work with me.
4. My car was already running very low on gas.
But I am resourceful and I am a technologically capable man about town in the year 2017. So this should be no problem, right? I have an iPhone and I have Apple Pay, with one of my credit cards housed in the digital guts of my device, like a tiny and very accommodating financier. I imagine him a little guy who wears a monocole and says things like, “Care for a spot of Starbuck’s, sir? I think the Flat White sounds agreeable, don’t you?”
I decided to see how long I could last for the day using only Apple Pay and not asking co-workers for a loan or, say, selling my blood. (Do people really buy blood? Is that a thing?)
My first stop was Company Kitchen, the semi-automated snack area at my workplace where you grab stuff and pay for these items at an ATM-like kiosk. Company Kitchen has a thumbprint reader and it knows my thumb well from dozens of purchases of Topo Chico drinks and maybe lots of bags of chips. Don’t judge.
I rolled up to Company Kitchen to see if lunch might be in order. My Company Kitchen balance was 52 cents, not enough to buy anything, really. I was getting hungry and my thumb would not save me. I considered ordering food from a delivery service such as Favor or UberEATS, which I have installed in my phone with a credit card enabled. But I wasn’t going to be in one place long enough to wait 30 minutes to an hour; I had an appointment to keep.
The next stop, hunger growing, was a local mall for an Apple Store Genius Bar visit. My computer mouse got mangled in an unfortunate drop and my iPhone battery has been inconsistent lately. I asked the Apple employee who was helping me where someone could use Apple Pay at the mall since Apple doesn’t sell anything edible in its store. “Well, you’ve got Starbucks and Chick-fil-A and…” He took a thoughtful pause, “…that’s about it.”
I looked on Apple’s website to make sure I might not be missing another nearby Apple Pay-friendly eating option. Nope. He was right.
Armed with an excuse to eat fast food without my kids around, I ordered a chicken salad sandwich, a light lemonade and some waffle fries. I paid with my phone by tapping it on the pay terminal and mashing my thumb on the home button. Easy. Fast. But, unfortunately, not a widely available option given all the food choices around the mall and in the food court.
I had an event in the evening and wasn’t able to start commuting home until close to 10 p.m. that night. I was starting to get hungry again, but made myself wait to eat until I got home. All I had to do was get there. Which was a problem as my car, a Prius, was already edging toward empty.
Let me tell you something about owning a Prius; it makes you feel like you have conquered energy. Even when the tank is on empty, the gas gauge blinking and beeping at you in a miniature panic, you know you’ve got at least 20 or 30 miles before the situation gets dire. You can go quite a ways on no gas.
My empty indicator went off before I’d even left Austin. Could I really make it 50 miles on fumes? I wasn’t sure I was willing to find out.
About 20 miles into my trip, I began to get panicky, my devil-may-care Prius attitude replaced by sweaty fear. I pulled over to see what my gas station options might be with Apple Pay. Exxon and Chevron accept Apple Pay, but it seemed like every station I passed was Valero or Shell. I finally pulled over at a Shell station, hoping against hope that some agreement had been brokered with Apple and new pay terminals installed since the last time I checked. Nope. The cashier was more than adamant: no Apple Pay. No gas.
I wondered if pulling over, shutting down my engine, and starting it back up was going to waste more gas than if I had just kept going. I had visions of tow trucks and embarassing calls to my wife and needing to be bailed out. It didn’t feel great.
I ransacked my car, looking for any loose change under the floor mats, in the plastic storage compartment between the seats, in the glove compartment. A collection of pennies, a few quarters and some grimy nickels and dimes began to add up. I found a token from Pizza Piper Pizza and stared at it in my hand in disgust. In all, I collected $1.50 in usable coinage. I took it to the cashier. I got enough gas to maybe get home and the cashier got to grudgingly count out a handful of coins.
The next 30 minutes were filled with anxiety. But I thought I could make it.
I finally got off on my exit, where there’s an Exxon station. I decided to give it a try, filling up my tank so I wouldn’t be in such a panic taking my kids to school the next morning. A sign placed on all the pumps read, “CREDIT/DEBIT DOWN. PLEASE PREPAY CASH INSIDE.”
I went home, empty tank, with plans to never forget my wallet again.
Here’s the thing about mobile payments: they are clearly the future. They’re easy, convenient, and more intuitive to use than carrying around pieces of plastic and paper.
But mobile payments are far from ubiquitous. After I mentioned my predicament online, friends suggested great local coffee shops, restaurants and delivery services that accept Apple Pay. But even though it’s getting more common, Apple Pay never seems to be at the right pay terminal. It’s never a problem you don’t have to think about, or the purely in-the-moment experience Apple probably hopes its users are having.
Apple Pay, and alternatives such as Android Pay and Samsung Pay, aren’t always where you want them when you need them. It only takes a day of scrambling for a meal and a tank of gas to show that we’ve got a long way to go.
Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 5:12 PM
— WASHINGTON — In the first major congressional attempt to address the advent of self-driving cars, two senators said Monday they're launching a bipartisan effort to help to speed up the deployment of the vehicles on the nation's roads.
Republican John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Democrat Gary Peters of Michigan, said they're exploring legislation that "clears hurdles and advances innovation in self-driving vehicle technology."
The senators' counterparts in the House are also gearing up to address the new technology, with a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
Automakers cite federal requirements that all vehicles must have steering wheels and brake pedals as examples of regulations that presume there will be a human driver and might inhibit the introduction of self-driving cars. Congressional action may be needed to make changes.
"Without changes to those regulations, it may be years before the promise of today's technology can be realized and thousands of preventable deaths that could have been avoided will happen," Michael Ableson, General Motors' vice president of global strategy, plans to tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to prepared testimony.
Proponents of self-driving cars say they hold the potential to dramatically reduce traffic deaths by eliminating human error, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says is a factor in 94 percent of all fatal crashes. More than 35,000 people were killed on the nation's roads in 2015, up over 7 percent from the previous year. Traffic deaths surged an additional 8 percent in the first nine months of last year.
Automakers also say that states are moving ahead with their own regulations, creating the potential for a confusing "patchwork" of laws.
"Our effort will also include a discussion on the existing patchwork of laws and regulations and the traditional roles of federal and state regulators," Thune and Peters said in a joint statement.
Safety advocates have urged the government to set standards that specifically address the safety of self-driving cars. The Obama administration last year issued a voluntary set of safety goals for makers of self-driving cars to meet with the understanding that enforceable regulations could follow.
The Trump administration hasn't yet indicated what approach it will take to the technology.
Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 11:02 AM
— Happy Monday, Austin. Hope your weekend was a good one.
As you settle into the work week, here’s a look at some of the technology stories building a buzz around the Interwebs this morning:
Passenger carrying drones? Yes, please!
In Dubai, government leaders have an idea for battling traffic jams: a passenger-carrying drone. Yes, seriously.
Dubai officials say they hope to have the passenger-carrying drone -- which is a Chinese-made device known as the EHang 184 -- buzzing through the skyline of the city-state as soon as July.
The craft can carry a passenger weighing up to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and a small suitcase. After buckling into its race-car-style seat, the craft's sole passenger selects a destination on a touch-screen pad in front of the seat and the drone flies there automatically.
It’s hard to know if the egg-shaped, four-legged craft will really take off as a transportation alternative in this car-clogged city.
"This is not only a model," said Mattar al-Tayer, head of Dubai's Roads & Transportation Agency. "We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai's skies.”
Here’s hoping it works. And that we can get a fleet of them for Austin.
New features for Google Maps
Google Maps is rolling out a new feature that lets you create Spotify-like "playlists" of favorite local spots on Google Maps that you can then share with friends. The idea is, obviously, pretty similar to Foursquare, but with Google’s size and reach, the idea is a huge network of lists can be created that gives users "a speed-dial-like network of places if you're trying to figure out where to dine or visit on short notice," Engadget writes. TechCrunch and The Verge also weigh in on the new Google feature and its possible uses, with The Verge piece wondering if Google Maps is trying to step into the social network space.
New tech might mean better Wi-Fi
We’d all like better, more consistent Wi-Fi networks, right? Well, Qualcomm on Monday rolled out some new technology that some tech experts say could make your home Wi-Fi a lot better. Mashable’s Raymond Wong has a piece on how the new Qualcomm tech works, and what it might mean for you.
Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2016 @ 3:09 PM
— Spotify wants to help you cook your Thanksgiving turkey just right.
Time for Turkey, the streaming service's holiday-specific program, gives users three steps for a perfectly-done turkey: provide the turkey's weight, choose what genre of music you'd like to listen to, and enjoy.
Genres include Americana, "Family Time," "Feeling Thankful," "Club Kitchen," "Freshly Baked" and "Golden Oldies." Each themed playlist name works off of the genre. For example, the "Freshly Baked" playlist brings out the newest hits for you to enjoy some never-tasted-before singles. "Family Time" includes songs that every generation can enjoy, such as "I'm A Believer" by the Monkees or "Riptide" by Vance Joy.
While the songs themselves may not be Thanksgiving-themed, the variety of turkey accompaniment that Spotify has provided contributes so much to the dinner process. Even if only for timing purposes, Time for Turkey will add to your Thanksgiving feast. In an age where we see Christmas advertisements earlier and earlier each year, this feels like a good way for a company to give Thanksgiving a nod of acknowledgment.