It was almost 3 years ago when Chris Urmson, the then head of the self-driving car project of Google, sent an email to the Co-Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, expressing his concern regarding Uber.
Over the last six months we have stopped playing to win and instead are now playing to minimize downside.
Urmson left Google in 2016. This Monday, that aforementioned email was leaked & it, along with some other internal correspondence from 2015 and 2016, has unveiled new details on how Google has lost its lead in autonomous cars. Reports about a dramatic trade secret theft trial between Uber Technologies Inc. and Waymo, the car unit of Google, are all over the news. Waymo, as of now, is a part of Alphabet Inc.
Google started the Chauffeur driverless car project in 2009 but has clearly failed to capitalize on that early start as rivals like Uber have begun to close the gap.
Even in February 2015, Urmson sent another email to Page and Brin explaining how Uber was acquiring the same people he said not to hire when he had asked Google more than a year earlier.
We have a choice between being the headline or the footnote in history’s book on the next revolution in transportation. Let’s make the right choice. – Chris Urmson
Another email from November 2015 shows how Google management panicked about losing Anthony Levandowski. Levandowski is an autonomous vehicle engineer, and he is at the very center of the current court battle.
Astro Teller, a Google research executive, also had emailed John Krafcik, the incoming head of the car project, about how Page was concerned about Levandowski’s move to the rivals. It was in November 2015.
Exactly two months after that, Levandowski emailed Page mentioning how Google was losing the tech advantage. He accused Krafcik of being too focused on cutting a deal with Ford Motor Co., which Waymo and Ford denied.
Eighteen days after that incident, Levandowski gave up on Google. According to the email of a certain Google Human Resources Executive, Page was really concerned about this sudden exit of Levandowski. It stated Larry is worried he’s going to start something competitive.
Levandowski started his own autonomous vehicle business in early 2016 and named it Otto. In the August of 2016, Urmson left Google. Uber acquired Otto in the same month.
Dmitri Dolgov, a top Executive at Google and Waymo, predicted that Google’s car project might look less competitive from a financial perspective. He requested Google to take the matter seriously.
Dolgov also mentioned other “interesting and plentiful exit opportunities,” citing Chinese search giant Baidu, ride-hailing companies Didi and Lyft and carmakers.