Waymo, Otto, Uber, Google: A Lawsuit in Need of an Explanation

Amongst the many stories of Uber’s recent controversies, you may have heard of a lawsuit between Waymo and Uber. The case centers on intellectual property infringement, which is already a complicated, technical issue on its own when you break down how a judge or jury determines if the technology is infringing on a patent.

Let’s break down just what’s going on in this situation:

What is Waymo?

To understand what Waymo is, we need to go back to Google Co-Founder Larry Page’s open letter in which he announced that Google would become a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., a holding company that will be the parent company for several of the company’s endeavors. This includes X, the company’s “moonshot factory” or investment lab, GV and CapitalG, the company’s two investment arms, and Waymo, the company’s self-driving car project that spun out of X.

Waymo began as a self-driving car research project at X (then called Google X) in 2009. The name Waymo, which Alphabet unveiled in 2016, is short for “a new way forward in mobility.”

Seems like a weird phrase to shorthand.

Yes, yes it does.

Let’s go back to this Alphabet company. Why was it created and did it replace Google?

Google still exists and includes everything you would associate with the brand: search, ads, YouTube, Maps, Chrome, and Android. But now it’s one of several entities under the Alphabet umbrella.

When it comes to the why, that’s a bit trickier to explain. There’s plenty of speculation that the creation of Alphabet is all about improving visibility into the company’s operations and revenue breakdown for investors. Each of these companies now operates independently, with separate budgets and revenue that are reported out in the quarterly earnings the company is required to file by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the the governing body of the US financial markets.

So, back to Waymo. Why was it spun out of X?

Companies are spun out of X when they’ve moved past the research stage and are ready for commercialization. If Alphabet is confident the company has a sound business model and product that’s ready for the market, it’s moved out of X to become a stand-alone company. According to Waymo CEO John Krafcik, “what you’re feeling from the Waymo team is confidence that we can bring this [technology] to [people].”

How exactly does Uber fit into all of this?

Uber, like many other technology and automotive companies, is developing self-driving car technology of its own as part of its Advanced Technologies Group. CEO Travis Kalanik first began recruiting engineers for the project in Pittsburgh in late 2014.

Pittsburgh seems pretty random.

It’s not. It’s home to Carnegie Melon University (CMU), which has a well-respected robotics department where many of the top experts in the field spent time conducting research. Originally, Uber partnered with CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center to develop the technology. Then, Uber poached about 50 people from CMU, which was about one third of the Center’s researchers.

Wait, Uber stole all of the workers away from its partner?

That’s a story on it’s own. Let’s just say it was not a popular move in the technology community.

Did Uber’s technology from the CMU partnership infringe on Waymo’s patents?

No. The patent infringement issue starts with Otto, a startup that was developing self-driving technology for trucks. The company was founded by former Google employees Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron, Don Burnette, and Claire Delaunay. Levandowski formerly led Google’s self-driving car project and incorporated Otto two weeks after leaving the search giant. The team first announced the existence of the company in May 2016. Only three months later, Uber acquired Otto for $680 million.

Why did Uber acquire Otto? And when are we getting to the patent infringement?

We’re finally getting there. There are a number of reasons Uber bought Otto, including its relationship to car manufacturers, its talent, and its technology. That technology includes LiDAR, or light detection and ranging. LiDAR works by using lasers to detect objects, space, and anything else in an environment by tracking how long it takes for the laser to hit the object and bounce back to create a 3D map. It’s a mechanical form of echolocation. The technology is used for autonomous guided vehicles (aka self-driving cars) to detect everything on and around the road, from other vehicles to obstructions.

This is the technology that Waymo is suing Uber over.

So why does Waymo think Uber is infringing on the LiDAR technology? And when did they file the lawsuit?

The lawsuit began in February. According to Waymo, it all started with an email: “One of our suppliers specializing in LiDAR components sent us an attachment (apparently inadvertently) of machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s LiDAR circuit board — except its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design,” the company announced in a Medium post.

That email sparked an investigation by Waymo, which eventually led the company to discover that a month and a half before he resigned, Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 proprietary files, including the designs of the company’s LiDAR technology and circuit board. Waymo also claims that other former Google employees downloaded confidential information about suppliers and manufacturing. The full filing goes into details about just what these employees supposedly stole.

In the filing, Waymo asked the court for an injunction against Uber’s self-driving car program. Translation: Waymo wants to stop Uber from continuing to work on the technology.

How did Uber respond?

Uber released a statement to Business Insider on February 24th denying all allegations, claiming the lawsuit is “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.”

Levandowski also released a response of sorts. The Otto founder exercised his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self incrimination on March 30th. He also hired his own criminal counsel for the suit, though he is not formally named in Waymo’s filings.

Uber officially filed its formal response to the lawsuit on April 7th, which included details about the differences in the two company’s LiDAR technologies, the lack of evidence around the 14,000 files.

Did Waymo respond?

Waymo originally claimed that Uber failed to disclose the proper documents related to the lawsuit on April 3rd. Waymo asked Judge William Alsup to compel Uber to produce all of the documents or assume the company is hiding documents.

Waymo also reiterated its claims in its response, saying “Uber’s assertion that they’ve never touched the 14,000 stolen files is disingenuous at best, given their refusal to look in the most obvious place: the computers and devices owned by the head of their self-driving program.”

So where does the lawsuit stand now?

The last update with the lawsuit has to do with Levandowski’s Fifth Amendment claim. William Alsup, the judge presiding over the case, rejected Levandowski’s request and ordered Uber to disclose documents created by a third party when it conducted due diligence for the acquisition of Otto. The due diligence report must be included without any redactions related to Levandowski in a “privilege log,” which is a document a party in a lawsuit produces that they do not think should be opened in court because of the proprietary nature of the material.

Waymo filed the last update in the case, filing an opposition request over Uber’s motion to keep the dispute private by going into arbitration. Uber originally filed for arbitration because of Alphabet’s employee agreements state that any disputes with the company should be settled in arbitration. But Waymo believes this is not a valid claim, as Levandowski is not the defendant in the case, Uber is.

So what now?

Prepare for a long lawsuit filled with more filings and claims. Unless some settlement is reached, the case could be dragged out for months.

Movie Success: Is it in the Data?

By Dijana, Maddie, and Sruthi 

Despite all of the talk every year about how out of touch the entire award ceremony and results are, everyone in the film industry wants to win an Oscar. It’s the most prestigious award in the industry, signifying the recipient being at the top of the field. Regardless of the flaws of the voting process, which is completely subjectives given the voting constituency, the number of Oscars a film wins is more often than not the main measure of a film’s success.

But is there some other factor that contributes to that success? Do the film critics sway the voters? Does public sentiment push movies into Oscar contention? Is there some correlation between the revenue of a movie and it’s Oscar potential? Does spending more on the film lead to more wins?

Using data sets that included quantitative data from IMDB, the American Film Institute, and Box Office Mojo, it’s clear that some factors have a stronger relationship with Oscar wins than others.

(Budget) Size Doesn’t Matter

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After charting the relationship between Oscar wins and the adjusted budget of each film released from 1928 to 2010 (with some omissions due to the incomplete data set), it’s clear that the cost of the movie has no bearing on its overall success. Very rarely are the big budget movies major winners at the Academy Awards. In fact, only Titantic, a film that cost approximately $200M to make, has a significantly large budget in film terms.  

There may be many inferences to make from the data, such as the fact that the most expensive movies tend to be summer releases geared for the general population as opposed to the serious film crowd. Budgets may be increasing for films over the last several decades (see graph below), but the number of films winning a significant amount of awards has not increased. However, given the lack of available data, these points remain speculation.     

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Mo’ Money, Mo’ Oscars?

The size of a budget may not signal a greater probability for a film to win more Oscars, but about overall revenue? Does the box office success matter for the Academy voters?

Looking at the data from Box Office Mojo of the 25 movies released before 2011 with the highest domestic grosses, adjusted for inflation, it’s clear that there is no significant relationship between revenue and Oscar wins.

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Academy members aren’t swayed from box office smashes when it comes to choosing Best Picture. Though there are a few outliers, such as Gone with the Wind and Titanic, that have earned a significant amount of revenue at the box office as well as Academy Awards, for the most part more revenue does not signify more Oscars. In fact, 6 of the 25 movies did not win a single Oscar, and three only won one Academy Award.

The People vs. Oscar Wins

In the film industry, an Oscar is an incredible achievement, signifying the quality of the end product and the work that went into creating it. But does the public see these films in the same way? Just how popular are the most successful movies?

Using data from the IMDB database, the rating of each film (which any IMDb.com visitor can vote on) was compared to the total Oscar wins:

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Surprisingly, the most popular film on IMDb according to the public rating at 9.2 out of 10 is The Shawshank Redemption, a film that while nominated for seven Academy Awards, came away empty handed. On the other hand, two of the three films with the most Oscar wins (11), Titanic and Ben-Hur failed to make the top 250 ratings on the website, with ratings of 7.7 and 5.7, respectively. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is one of the few films that bucks this trend, with a rating of 8.9 and 11 Oscar wins.

But What Do the Experts Think?

When it comes to measuring the success of a film, one major group has been ignored thus far: film experts, including historians and critics. To get a better sense of how much expert opinion matches up with the Academy’s, the American Film Institute’s list of top 25 movies of all time (up to 2010) was used as the primary source for analysis:

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Much like the previous analyses, the number of wins does not match up well with the ranking. While several movies, such as Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, and On the Waterfront, each won several awards and were ranked in the top 10, the top film of all time, Citizen Kane, only won one Oscar. Even more surprising, several of the top 25 films, including Singin’ in the Rain, Psycho, and It’s a Wonderful Life received zero Academy Awards.

Of course, several caveats must be made with the data. The number of total categories and therefore possible wins has increased substantially from the first Academy Awards in 1928. Similarly, there is no way to determine the competitiveness of the field in a given year. There’s no way of knowing if a film that is highly regarded by critics and the public would have won more awards if it was released in another year.Additionally, not all Oscars are created equally, and more weight may need to be applied to categories like Best Picture and Best Director over others.

Despite the issues with the data, one thing remains clear: Oscar wins may be a measure of success for the industry, but it very little, if any, evidence that several criteria matter when it comes to predicting success. So instead of trying to use an IMDB rating to predict the next Oscar winner, it may be better to just guess blindly.

A Snapshot of International Women’s Day in Tokyo and Serbia

By Sruthi, Mika, Dijana, and Maddie

What began as a 15,000-person protest against oppression and inequality in New York in 1908 is now a global event, with thousands of people from around the world  marching, walking out, and demonstrate for women’s rights.

On March 8th, women and men in small towns and large cities participated in International Women’s Day. Despite the shared goal among the protestors, each  community celebrated the event in its own way. Below are snapshots of how International Women’s Day was celebrated, discussed, and, in some cases, questioned.


Typically, there is not much protesting or marching in Japan, as people tend to avoid engaging in public discourse about politics or issues about women, especially in public spaces.

But at 2:30 PM on March 8th in Tokyo, marchers took to the street. The event was organized bythe Women’s March Tokyo Organizing Committee and took place between Aoyama and Shibuya in the center of Tokyo. Though the 300 people who participated did not match the thousands who marched in New York, Dublin, or other large cities, the protesters were passionate and drew attention of the press.

Translation:  “My first ever march!”

Translation: “Thank you! All the rage, concerns, and frustrations which I had experienced in the past… Thanks to everyone, I now realize that I am no longer alone and am energized by all of you. Let’s voice our anger together, and make Japan and the rest of the world a better place!”

Though may news organizations covered the protest, including a livestream from Huffington Post Japan, the national public broadcaster NHK chose not to. Many expressed their frustration with the decision:

Translation: “NHK sucks! They showed marches abroad, no mention about Japan!”


Serbians also held a march for International Women’s Day, with news outlets estimating that as many as 600 people attended, though the Facebook post shows only 45 publicly said they attended:

In Serbia, many popular singers turned to social media to comment on women’s equality:

Jelena Rozga

Natasa Bekvalac

 But not all Serbians agreed with the meaning behind International Women’s Day and the march. For some, gender equality was not an issue worth protesting:

Translation: (comment 1)“What right do we lack??? If I am, as a woman, fed up from these feministic things, I wonder how men feel when they sleep with women with silicones but eat normal food only on Sundays at their mom’s’ house!!!…”

(comment 3) “Foolishness. You can vote, you have jobs, you can chose your careers, what do you want more? Stop bothering people.”

Maddie’s Media Diary

From Wednesday, February 15th, to Monday, February 21st, I kept track of my media usage and consumption, including app usage on my phone, laptop, and smartwatch, total time on different apps, and time spent reading or listening to news. I recorded the majority of my usage manually (to the best of my ability) while also using RescueTime to track the activity on my computer. I created the charts below using info.gram.

Below are various charts showing my usage as well as my takeaways from the entire experience:

Technology Usage

I broke down the various methods I consumed media by tracking my activities on each platform. I also kept track of my sleep to show the stark contrast each day between watching television and resting.

Additionally, here is the day-by-day chart of my technology use:


By looking at both charts it’s clear that my time is largely taken up by staring at either my MacBook or my iPhone. This is largely due to my app consumption, especially Netflix (for my laptop) and Twitter (on my phone). I was somewhat surprised by my Apple Watch usage, partially because I thought I looked at it fewer than I do; I averaged 75 glances at my watch each day.   

Application Usage

My media consumption is largely done through an app on either my laptop, phone, or smartwatch. Though I currently have 151 apps installed on my iPhone, I only used these 11 apps for a statistically significant amount of time over the six days:

  • Netflix
  • Spotify
  • Outlook
  • Twitter
  • Podcast
  • Slack
  • Instagram
  • Microsoft Word
  • Facebook
  • WhatsApp
  • Text

Here is my total app usage over the past six days:

Additionally, here is the total number of hours spent on each app:


I do wonder how much my app usage depends on my schedule each day. For those where I’m in class more, I seem to rely far more on Outlook and Twitter. But when I’m home, Netflix is the dominant app by far and away. I wish I could’ve seen a snapshot of my usage only a year ago. I know my Twitter usage would’ve been much higher, as I’ve noticed a drop off over the last several months in the time I spend on Twitter each day. This may be due to my exhaustion of political news or simply a move away from checking Twitter compulsively throughout the day for news. Also, I’ve started using Slack more now that I’ve joined a startup team, and we use it as our main means of communication.

Reading Habits

Finally, I wanted to see how much of my day I dedicated to consuming news, and more importantly, how I choose to do so. I know my use of Twitter has decreased over the last several months, but I wasn’t sure if I had dropped from one of my most used apps.

A large portion of my news consumption comes from podcasts, including:

  • This American Life
  • Reply All
  • What What Don’t Tell Me
  • The New York Times’ The Daily
  • NPR Poltiics Podcast

Here is a the breakdown by day of the total number of hours spent on each app each day:


The biggest surprise for me came out of my little use of Facebook. I always assumed it would be one of my most used apps, but I rarely check the app unless I have an event or a friend request. I also included my time on Messenger because it was such a small portion of my overall time on the app.


Maybe the biggest thing to take away from this exercise is how little I sleep or do anything without a screen in front of my face in some way. I’m always inundated by media in some fashion, and the majority of it is something I do without even thinking, such as listening to music or checking my email on my watch or phone.

When I finished my analysis, I realized that I only spent approximately 13 hours in the total 144 hours of the six-day period doing non-technology activities, such as talking with people. It made me realize that it may be time to schedule some sort of technology break for a few days, if only to refresh my mind and remind myself that things are going on around me and not just on a screen.

PGP: An Old Technology for a New Media Environment

Data privacy is, and should, be top of mind for journalists. As the Trump Administration takes an antagonistic approach with the media, it’s not very unrealistic to imagine the President signing an executive order any day now forcing news organizations to release emails to the government or have to pay significant fines or even face jail time if they do not reveal sources for leaks.

Just this week, President Trump tweeted about the “illegal tweets coming out of Washington” following the resignation of Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor. Flynn’s resignation was due in large part to reporters from The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other outlets publishing stories based on leaked information from government officials about Flynn’s conversations with Russia.

For journalists to keep informing the public of the stories that the Administration is trying to hide or ignore, they must continue using anonymous sources from within the government. These leaks cannot stop, regardless of whatever measures the Administration tries to put in place to stop government employees from speaking out and contacting the press.

The Need for Encryption

But for many of these employees, there are major ramifications to divulging top secret or sensitive information. Before any government employee considers leaking information to the press, they need to be sure that the communication is delivered securely and their identity is not divulged. Outside of in-person, secret meetups Deepthroat-style, this means that the journalist will need to use encryption to keep the information secure. Similarly, the journalist will need to keep the information secure to keep sources private to continue reporting the stories that need to be told.

PGP: A Golden Standard

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is a free encryption and decryption program created by Phil Zimmermann and typically used for email that has been around since 1991. The name, which is a tribute to A Prairie Home Companion, is misleading, as the tool is known to be more than just “pretty good” when it comes to maintaining a user’s privacy. In a post titled “Why do you need PGP?,” Zimmermann explains the need for the encryption tool:

Intelligence agencies have access to good cryptographic technology. So do the big arms and drug traffickers. So do defense contractors, oil companies, and other corporate giants. But ordinary people and grassroots political organizations mostly have not had access to affordable military grade public-key cryptographic technology. Until now. PGP empowers people to take their privacy into their own hands. There’s a growing social need for it.

Encryption, much like PGP, is a very old technology that is still just as relevant and powerful as it was when it  was first invented. Through encryption, the message you send is muddled up into a meaningless string of letters and numbers so that anyone snooping through your email cannot decipher the message. Only those with the correct key can unlock the meaning:

(via Lifehacker)

To start using PGP, you need to download GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG), either through GPGTools (OS X) or Gpg4win (Windows). Once he or she has his or her own PGP key, the person can communicate with anyone else through encryption, so long as the recipient also has a PGP key. There are several browser extensions you can download to make the process of sending an encrypted email quicker, including PGP Anywhere and Mailvelope. PGP also works with mail clients such as Mozilla Thunderbird for email encryption.

The biggest hurdle for anyone new to PGP is finding others who have their own PGP keys as well. WIthout the two-way system, you cannot send the encrypted messages. This may be a deterrent for some reporters who cannot convince sources to use a PGP key because of the time it takes to set it up. But for journalists who want to protect information and confidentiality, the upfront costs are worth the privacy gained through encryption.

To avoid this issue, there are other encryption tools journalists can use, such as Virtru. This tool is used in conjunction with other platforms such as Gmail and Salesforce to keep information secure through data encryption. However, unlike PGP, Virtru and other similar products are not free for users.

PGP is only the first step

Though email encryption is only one step journalists can take to keep their messages secure and the privacy of their sources intact, it’s one of the most important and the first they should consider. PGP is not the perfect solution for encryption, as several government agencies to have the ability to unlock keys and decipher the message. But using PGP can be seen as a gateway for journalists to better maintain confidentiality and keep information secure. Creating a key and locking their emails is the first step journalists can take to unlocking the road to better privacy habits.

Maddie’s Bio

I’m Maddie Perez, a second year MBA at MIT Sloan. Before coming to MIT I had a mixed bag of a career, including working in sports journalism, crisis communication, education PR, R&D research and consulting, and venture capital. I’m an aspiring venture capitalist with the hope of funding media companies that have found ways to create high-quality, accurate content with a profitable business model—we’ll see how long that takes. Here are a few more random facts about me:

  • I’m an army brat and moved around a bit growing up, but I consider Fayetteville, NC home
  • Coding-wise, I’ve focused primarily on front end work, and am pretty proficient in CSS/HTML and quasi-proficient in JavaScript
  • I’m currently working on a VR platform for autism therapy. The hope is that using different types of media in new ways (in this case building simulation exercises for VR) can improve the efficacy of autism therapy while drastically reducing costs
  • I was an English major in undergrad with a minor in policy journalism and media studies, so in some ways I feel like I get to relive some of my favorite classes
  • I’m a proud Slytherin