Kia Kokalitcheva

Uber accused of stealing Waymo's self-driving car device

Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car unit, says that Uber has been hiding a secret device designed using stolen trade secrets by a former Waymo employee, according to new court documents. And for that reason, it's asking the court to bar the former employee, Anthony Levandowski, from working on Uber's self-driving car technology.

Why it matters: Uber's defense in the case has hinged on claims that it only has two self-driving car device designs and neither resemble Waymo's tech. However, Waymo's latest claims could mean Uber has been lying all along.

What's next: A hearing is scheduled for May 3 in regards to Waymo's request for a preliminary injunction to halt Uber's self-driving car efforts.


Uber exec "misspoke" about startup (non)acquisition

Automobile Italia / Flickr cc

Uber chief product officer Jeff Holden recently told the following to a conference audience (video at 13:00):

"We found a startup at Carnegie Melon with some ex-CMU professors called Carnegie Robotics that had this great concentration of people who were just perfect for this and we bought the company and that formed the nucleus of the Uber self-driving team."

But Uber never actually bought Carnegie Robotics, although its CTO did leave for Uber before returning to Carnegie Robotics earlier this year. Instead, Carnegie Robotics was, and remains, an independent company. An Uber spokesman tells Axios that Holden "misspoke."


Theranos accused of faking tech demos to investors


Theranos allegedly bought outside lab equipment via a secret shell company and ran "fake demonstration tests" for potential investors and partners, according to a recently unsealed lawsuit by one of its investors, Partner Fund Management, obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: Since the Journal published a series of reports in 2015 questioning Theranos' technology, the company has accused the media of maliciously attacking its efforts to improve medicine. Now, depositions of current and former employees and directors could shed even more light on the company's secretive practices. Theranos says is disagrees with the allegations raised in the "one-sided filing by one party to litigation."

What to watch: Last week, a judge blocked a deal Theranos sought to make with investors in exchange for not being sued. Partner Fund, who sued to have the deal blocked, says that its terms would make it hard for the firm to recover its investment in the event of a bankruptcy. A hearing is scheduled for May.


Toyota backs car-sharing startup Getaround

Courtesy of Getaround

Getaround, an eight-year-old startup that lets people rent out their car to others (basically a P2P Zipcar), has raised $45 million in Series C funding, with Toyota and the venture capital investment arm of Shanghai Automotive participating. San Francisco-based Getaround reports nearly half a million users and operates in 13 cities across the U.S.

Toyota's ambitions: Like its peers, the Japanese automaker is quietly partnering with startups challenging the traditional car ownership model. Last May, Toyota inked a partnership and invested an undisclosed sum in ride-hailing giant Uber (which also has its own partnership with Getaround).

The deal: Braemar Energy Ventures led this latest funding round, with existing investors Menlo Ventures and Triangle Peak Partners, among others, also participating.


Facebook's focus on futuristic tech

Futuristic technology took the stage on the second day of F8, Facebook's annual developer conference in Silicon Valley.

Why it matters: Facebook has been working on Internet connectivity tech and AI for years, but its new interests in technology for reading brain waves and mixed reality that barely exist today shows that it wants to compete with companies like Google when it comes to tech "moonshots."

The big news:

  • Facebook wants you to wear AR glasses: Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash described a future in which we all wear glasses that mix augmented and virtual reality. But we're still at least five years away from augmented reality's "MacIntosh" moment—meaning when it becomes a mainstream technology.
  • Facebook wants you to type with your mind: Facebook's secretive Building 8 unit, led by former DARPA director and Google executive Regina Dugan, unveiled two of its projects. One aims to let people type using their brain waves, and the other is working on letting them hear and detect language through their skin.
  • Other new tech: Facebook execs also discussed new improvements and projects in the areas of 360-video cameras, internet connectivity, and artificial intelligence.
Catch up on Day 1 of F8 here.

Everything Facebook unveiled on Day 1 of its conference

Facebook kicked off its annual development conference Tuesday amid a fresh controversy over its Live video service, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg was solely focused on Fast and Furious jokes and augmented reality.

Main takeaway: Virtual reality may someday be the next big thing, but for the foreseeable future, using devices like smartphones to decorate, distort, animate, or annotate the world around us is Facebook's next frontier. And with Snapchat already calling dibs on the "camera company" slogan and whimsical lenses, augmented reality will also be the battleground from these two social media companies.

The big news from Day 1:

  • Camera Effects Platform: A set of software tools for developers and creators that lets them build filters and effects that can recognize objects and add 3D effects to photos and videos. Expect Facebook to continue to add to and improve these tools over time as it's banking on them to keep its service relevant and interesting for both developers and users.
  • Facebook Spaces for Oculus: A new virtual reality app for hanging out with friends, combining Facebook's roots as a social network and its new interest in VR. But unlike camera-based augmented reality, socializing in a world of avatars might not be the norm for a while given it requires special devices and technology that's still in its early days.
  • Messenger 2.0: Admitting that last year's release of chat bots wasn't as polished as it could have been, Facebook came back with new and improved ones, along with other fresh features for its messaging app. It's clear Facebook wants to turn Messenger into the way businesses interact with customers, so it's giving them as many tools as it can to achieve that.
  • And more: Facebook's other announcements on Tuesday include bots and partnerships for its workplace service, new javascript frameworks, a tool for making Android apps, a password recovery tool, and new analytics tools for businesses. TechCrunch has a great overview of these.

What's next: On Day 2, Facebook is expected to unveil new gadgets its secretive Building 8 unit has been developing.


Facebook Messenger gets extra shot of AI

Kia Kokalitcheva / Axios

Following last year's big push to bring chat bots to its Messenger app, Facebook unveiled new capabilities and improvements on Tuesday at its annual developer conference in San Jose, California. "We got a lot of attention for opening our platform," said Messenger Chief David Marcus, "and right after we got a lot of attention for all of the work we still need to do."

What's new: Chat extensions for adding bots to group conversations, bots for playing games, QR codes for information, a Discover tab with a curated selection of popular bots, and new tools to help businesses build their own bots. There's already a Spotify chat extension for sharing music links in group chats, with Apple Music coming soon.

By the numbers:

  • 65 million businesses active on Facebook, and more than 20 million respond to Messenger messages
  • 2 billion messages sent monthly between users and businesses
  • 100,000 Messenger bots
  • 100,000 developers using Messenger's tools

Facebook unveils new augmented reality tools

Facebook unveiled its Camera Effects Platform, a set of augmented reality tools for outside developers, on Tuesday at its annual F8 developer conference in San Jose, California.

We're going to make the camera the first mainstream augmented reality platform.
—Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

The features: The initial set of software tools for developers will let them build camera filters and effects that can recognize objects and add 3D effects, among others. One set of tools, called Frame Studio, lets creators design photo frames, while AR Studio lets them build augmented reality frames that can display information or labels. As Zuckerberg said as he introduced the new platform, Facebook will add new and improved tools over time.


Facebook brings hanging out to virtual reality with Spaces

Combining its roots as a social network and its recent interest in virtual reality, Facebook unveiled Spaces for Oculus at its annual developer conference in San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday.

Virtual hanging out: Facebook Spaces lets users create an avatar (using suggested features that resemble their Facebook photos), connect with friends on the social network, and hang out in a virtual environment. The company has been interested in virtual reality socializing for some time: CTO Mike Schroepfer showed off an early version at last year's conference, though it was not a publicly available product at the time.


Facebook CEO addresses Ohio shooting video

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the recent video posted to its social network following a killing in Cleveland, during the company's annual developer conference in San Jose.

We'll do all we can to prevent these things from happening.
—Mark Zuckerberg