In the wake of Waymo's lawsuit against Otto and Uber for allegedly stealing LiDAR-related IP, we dig through a few of Google's patents in the field.

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Last week Waymo, the Alphabet unit housing Google’s infamous self-driving car project, filed suit against autonomous driving startup Otto (and its parent Uber) for allegations of misappropriating trade secrets and patent infringement. Waymo’s note on the suit accused Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski and other ex-Waymo employees of downloading proprietary design files for Waymo’s LiDAR and other autonomous driving hardware.

Using the CB Insights patent search engine, we surfaced a few of the patents that Google/Waymo have filed on their research in LiDAR and its applications. CB Insights subscribers can view the patents by clicking here.

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Long Range Steerable LIDAR System

Status: Application published October 2016

Just a week before the lawsuit, Waymo disclosed that it invested significantly in designing its own LiDAR system, which it plans to sell to automakers as part of an integrated hardware and software system. Waymo’s post described not just a short-range sensor, but also a “first-of-its-kind” long range sensor capable of quickly zooming into objects on the road.

We found that Google filed for a patent in March 2015 outlining this exact type of LiDAR system, with long-range capability and a rotational mount and controller that would allow the sensor to swivel and observe specific targets. Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski is listed as one of the inventors on this particular application.

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Construction zone object detection using light detection and ranging

Status: Granted December 2015

A patent field in February 2015 describes how 3D point clouds generated from a LiDAR sensor could be fed into a computing device that could identify objects and markets of a construction zone on the road.

Construction zones present a notable challenge for today’s autonomous vehicles to identify and properly navigate.

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Wide-view LiDAR with areas of special attention

Status: Granted June 2016

This patent, whose filing date goes back to 2012, describes a LiDAR system specifically designed “for use as a sensor providing environmental information for navigating an autonomous vehicle.” It also describes the processing of the light pulses from a scanning zone to generate a 3D point cloud from such a sensor.

Listed as the inventors are Brad Templeton, Pierre-Yves Droz (originally of 510 Systems, stealthily acquired by Google X in 2011), and Jiajun Zhu (who recently departed the project to co-found autonomous driving startup Nuro.ai).

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