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Technology

Google's Autonomous Vehicle Spending Tops $1.1B

by Justin Tejada
There's a reason that you rarely see large corporations involved in litigation that comes to trial.

For corporations, having the inner workings of their operations on display in a public courtroom can do enormous damage to their reputation and their bottom line, which is why so many corporate lawsuits end in settlements.

That is one of the things that makes the lawsuit between Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Google parent company Alphabet, and fellow AV giant Uber so unique.

The case centers around Anthony Levandowski, who was an important member of Google's autonomous vehicle team and allegedly downloaded thousands of technical documents before quitting to launch the self-driving truck startup Otto, which was subsequently acquired by Uber for $680 million.

Waymo alleges that Uber is now building technology using documents that were unlawfully stolen from them. As the trial has made its way through the courts, it has provided rare opening into how both companies operate.

A recent report from Mark Harris at IEEE Spectrum dove deep into a court filing from Waymo's lawsuit against Uber, and found a fascinating financial figure for Project Chauffeur -- the name for the Google self-driving car project that ultimately came to be known as Waymo.

"Between Project Chauffeur's inception in 2009 and the end of 2015, Google spent $1.1 billion on developing its self-driving software and hardware, according to a recent deposition of Shawn Bananzadeh, a financial analyst at Waymo," writes Harris.

While $1.1 billion may seem like a huge number, it actually indicates a remarkable level of efficiency considering how much Waymo has accomplished in the autonomous vehicle space over an extended time period.

By comparison, General Motors bought Cruise Automation for over $1 billion last year. Ford invested a similar figure in startup Argo AI in February, and Intel announced a whopping $15.3 billion purchase of sensor company Mobileye this past month.

Even with its relatively tame spending, Waymo has emerged as a leader in self-driving car technology. If they can hold onto that pole position as the technology comes to market in years to come, that initial investment will look tiny relative to the profits they'll rake in.

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