According to court documents unsealed last week, Uber envisioned running 75,000 autonomous vehicles in commercial applications across a geographic spread of 13 cities – all by 2022. These extrapolations date back to 2016, and are part of the cache of documents that have been submitted by Walter Bratic as an expert witness to rebut Waymo’s valuation claims for the economic damages that it incurred due to a trade secret theft.
Waymo had accused its former engineer Anthony Levandowski of stealing technical secrets from Waymo and founding his self-driving truck startup, Otto. Less than a year into Otto's existence, Uber bought the startup in 2016, and has been in hot soup with Waymo ever since over the alleged trade secret theft.
Waymo made claims that set its economic damages at $1.85 billion, for which Uber’s Bratic responded with a well-toned down $605,000 for perceived damages – a value roughly 3,000 times less than Waymo’s assertion. While Waymo did settle for 0.34 percent of Uber’s equity, what is interesting in those case files is how Uber’s estimate of its self-driving future has remained wildly optimistic at best.
Uber’s documents reveal that the company was spending $20 million a month trying to develop autonomous driving technology. Travis Kalanick, the ex-CEO and co-founder of Uber, had spoken on the existential crisis that Uber would have to contend with in a future where manual driving becomes an outlier. The only way for the company to remain unscathed in such a transition would be when it could commercially launch its own fleet of self-driving cars.