Waymo v Uber: 'Cheat codes, find them, use them' in Kalanick playbook

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Waymo and Uber are part of a crowded and hotly competitive field of automakers and technology companies aiming to build fleets of self-driving cars that could transform urban transportation systems.

It's been a tough morning so far for Uber's former CEO Travis Kalanick, who faced a second day of grilling from Waymo's attorneys about his efforts to compete against Google's self-driving auto program. Waymo also alleged that Uber's former star engineer, Levandowski, pilfered about 14,000 files from Waymo before he quit that company in 2016 to form his own self-driving truck startup, Otto, which Uber later acquired.

Waymo has estimated damages in the case at about $1.9 billion.

Levandowski, regarded as a visionary in autonomous technology, is not a defendant in the case but is on Waymo's witness list.

Kalanick's testimony showed the personal nature of the lawsuit, which is as much about big personalities at wealthy technology companies as it is about the technology itself.

Travis Kalanick said Uber's relationship with Google was brotherly.

A Google-bred pioneer in self-driving cars and Uber's beleaguered ride-hailing service are colliding in a courtroom showdown revolving around allegations of deceit, betrayal, espionage and a high-tech heist that tore apart one-time allies.

Wednesday is Kalanick's second day of testimony in a trial centered on allegations that he conspired with former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski to rip off Google's self-driving auto project, while Uber was attempting build its own robotic vehicles. That move, Kalanick says, upset Page.

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"I wanted to hire Anthony and he wanted to start a company so I tried to come up with a situation where he could feel like he started a company and I could feel like I hired him", said Kalanick, raising his voice a little for emphasis. During the final months of Kalanick's eight-year reign as CEO, Uber acknowledged rampant sexual harassment within its ranks, a yearlong cover-up of a major computer break-in and a $100,000 ransom paid to the hackers, and the use of duplicitous software to thwart government regulators.

Levandowski's downloads: Gary Brown, a Google security engineer, gave a detailed description of the forensic computer analyses he conducted to determine that Levandowski had downloaded 14,107 files from a Google server containing self-driving vehicle design files.

Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven asked Kalanick about a series of text messages sent between Kalanick and Levandowski in 2016. "Second place is first looser". Kalanick asked Drummond to set up a meeting with Larry Page about it, according to emails shared at the trial. He agreed with Verhoeven that Waymo had the lead in self-driving, which he viewed as an existential threat to Uber's future. He was frustrated by the slow pace of Uber's self-driving program, which trailed Waymo, and thought Levandowski could turn it around, the 10-person jury heard on Tuesday. "Maybe we can partner up", Kalanick testified. Uber has co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick at the top of its witness list.

Kalanick said Wednesday that it was just a movie and that it's fake. Gurley also said Kalanick "crossed a line of violating fraud and fiduciary duty" with the Otto acquisition. Attached was a file labeled as being from Otto, Levandowski's startup, which by then was owned by Uber.

Levandowski's hiring turned into a legal battle over driverless vehicle tech like, LIDAR. He also defended his definition of "cheat codes", a term he often used during meetings with Uber's executives, according to Waymo's evidence; when asked to elaborate on the matter, Mr. Kalanick described cheat codes as "elegant solutions" for issues no one thought of before.

Kalanick was shown in court an email from another executive, which said the "X factor" of acquiring Levandowski's company was the "IP in their heads".

"That's something I've said a couple times", Kalanick replied. He says the question here is where Levandowski ends and where Waymo begins.

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