Lior Ron — the co-founder of self-driving truck startup Otto Trucking that Uber acquired in 2016 and consequently faced a high-profile trade secret theft lawsuit from Alphabet's Waymo — is returning to the San Francisco, California-based startup. The move comes following lengthy negotiations that are understood to have spanned months and were mostly aimed at reworking the terms of Uber's purchase of Otto. Mr. Ron is returning to one of the world's most valuable startups to head its trucking division called Uber Freight which effectively allows truck drivers to do freelance work, connecting them with cargo companies in need of goods transportation services.
Combined with the Waymo settlement, the Otto acquisition cost Uber over $900 million in equity payments, with the company's ambitions in the self-driving truck space being entirely halted last month. The ride-hailing startup described the decision to shut down its autonomous truck unit so as to focus its resources on consumer-oriented applications of driverless vehicle technologies, suggesting it may eventually resume its efforts in the field but without providing a specific timeline for doing so. Uber Freight was unaffected by the decision as the truck-hailing service continues being viewed as one of the company's most profitable side business, almost on par with Uber Eats.
Mr. Ron left Uber in March of this year, shortly after the firm settled the trade secret theft case with Waymo for $245 million. His former Alphabet colleague and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski was accused of downloading thousands of sensitive documents from a Google unit that was later spun off into Waymo and used them to start Otto. The revised acquisition agreement will see Otto Trucking investors receive an equity stake in Uber Freight as if the platform is an independent business, the startup confirmed. While Mr. Ron testified as part of the Uber-Waymo trial, he was never employed by Google's subsidiary and hence wasn't implicated in any kind of wrongdoing.