Two of the biggest names in autonomous vehicle tech go head-to-head in court in San Franciso.

Ride-hailing firm Uber is being sued by Waymo, the self-driving company spun out of Google. At the heart of the case is the accusation that Uber stole ‘trade secrets’ relating to Lidar (light detection and ranging) – a key technology that enables an autonomous car to understand what’s happening around it.

According to the BBC, emails already shown in court detailed Uber’s ex-chief executive Travis Kalanick demanding “pounds of flesh” from Waymo, while others are said to involve him saying he wanted to “find the cheat codes”.

Uber v Google: Self-Drive Tech Clash Goes Legal

The Waymo v Uber battle has scope to get nasty… and expensive.

Yeah, but no

It’s expected that Uber, which is likely to start its defence next week, will not dispute document theft. Instead it will try to convince the jury that it didn’t use the information in its self-drive project. As a result, it will be crucial for Waymo to prove that not only did Uber have the documents, but that it used them to gain an advantage of some kind.

The case is expected to last about three weeks.

The Big Levandowski

At the centre of a row is Anthony Levandowski, a former Google employee conand a big deal in autonomous vehicle research.

He worked on Google’s self-driving programme before leaving in January 2016. It’s alleged that when he left, he took more than 14,000 confidential documents, including blueprints and other technical information about Lidar.

What’s at stake?

As well as potential for a mega-bucks payout, there’s also the risk of a court injunction to either end, or at least disrupt, Uber’s self-driving research. Given the high-stakes state of the self-drive game and the big money already invested by Uber in this tech, an injunction of this nature could have profound consequences.