http://www.theaustralian.com.au/bus...t/news-story/c4c48bbb9ad9151709da91b4cd0647f1 Uber faces probe into driverless tech ‘theft’ Uber is valued by investors at $95 billion. Jack Nicas, Greg Bensinger The Wall Street Journal 12:00AM May 15, 2017 Save Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share more... Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Whatsapp 2 Uber Technologies, already plagued by a string of scandals, now faces the threat of a federal criminal probe into its development of driverless cars, a crucial initiative for the high-flying ride-hailing business. A new shadow of uncertainty was cast over the autonomous-vehicle program when a federal judge last week recommended the US investigate the possibility that Uber and a top executive stole 14,000 files from Google parent Alphabet, many related to a laser sensor technology used in driverless cars. The order, which legal analysts said was rare in a civil trade-secrets case, could result in executives facing criminal prosecution, a startling turn of events for a project Uber has called “existential” to its future. Uber, which has called Alphabet’s claims unfounded, declined to comment on the referral to federal prosecutors. Alphabet and lawyers for the Uber executive at the centre of the case, Anthony Levandowski, didn’t respond to requests for comment. The US attorney’s office in San Francisco declined to comment. The high-stakes legal battle has pitted two Silicon Valley heavyweights against each other in a fight that has drawn lots of public attention. A potential federal probe combined with Alphabet’s lawsuit from earlier this year could debilitate an autonomous-vehicle program that is critical to Uber’s future. Uber is racing to roll out driverless cars in part because it holds potential to bolster a business that is valued by investors at nearly $US70 billion ($95bn) but lost at least $US2.8bn last year. The company and other technologists believe autonomous vehicles can cut travel time and save lives by eliminating human error. And for Uber, the technology could greatly reduce its biggest expense: paying drivers. But Uber risks losing key engineering talent if its self-driving auto development is curtailed. “This is a big deal,” said Rutgers University law professor Michael Carrier, who specialises in intellectual property. “There are lots of trade-secret cases filed and litigated every day; it’s the most common type of IP case. But very few make it to the stage that they could constitute a criminal investigation.” Uber is already facing another federal criminal investigation into the use of software tools allegedly used to trick regulators in sting operations, as well as claims from a former employee that its workplace ignores sexism and sexual harassment.