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Lior Ron co-founded Otto with Anthony Levandowski before selling the company to Uber.
A top self-driving tech executive at Uber has left the company.
Lior Ron, who co-founded trucking startup Otto, has left the company a little less than two years after Uber acquired his startup.
Ron headed up the business development side of Uber’s trucking business, Uber Freight. Uber Freight is a logistics platform that connects companies or people with payloads that need to be shipped with long-haul truckers. The company is also working on self-driving trucks that will eventually leverage that platform.
“We remain fully invested in and excited about the future of Uber Freight,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “Since launching in Texas, we have introduced Freight to all states in the continental U.S. We believe it will continue to grow as we use our network and technology to transform the trucking industry.”
Nonetheless, the departure comes at an inopportune time for Uber, as the company faces questions over its self-driving technology and fallout after a recent fatal self-driving crash in Tempe, Ariz.
However, in the last year there has been a bit of controversy surrounding Ron, who used to work at Google Maps.
Ron was a central figure in his former employer’s recent lawsuit against Uber. Alphabet sued Uber over trade-secret misappropriation after the ride-hail company acquired Otto. Alphabet alleged that Anthony Levandowski, Ron’s co-founder, had stolen proprietary files about self-driving sensors to bring to Uber.
Alphabet and Uber have since agreed to settle the suit. As part of the settlement, Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi — who was not at the company when the deal was brokered — conceded that the company could have handled the acquisition better, but denied that there were any stolen files at Uber.
During the lawsuit, it was revealed that both Levandowski and Ron had proprietary files on their personal devices. Neither Ron nor Levandowski were named in the suit, however.
But Ron’s desire to sell Otto to Uber was fueled by a desire to commercialize self-driving trucks, he testified during the Alphabet trial.That’s why he chose to sell to Uber instead of Lyft or stay at Alphabet, he said.
Even before Alphabet filed the suit against Uber over its purchase of Otto, the acquisition caused some internal tension within the company’s self-driving department. Part of that stemmed from confusion about whether the priority for Uber’s development efforts should be the trucks or the cars.
That tension is partially what led to stalled technological progress with the technology, several sources told Recode in March 2017.
The company had seemingly made progress — at least on the trucking front. Uber’s self-driving trucks began delivering freight in Arizona earlier this month. In the wake of the fatal Tempe crash, however, all of Uber’s self-driving operations have been halted in the state.
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