Spawned from a need to find reliable transportation around its hometown, Mountain View, Calif., Google started its own ride-hailing network on a small scale, Levandowski says. It was called Freebird, and it resembled in spirit a San Francisco startup just beginning to upend transportation.
A new path forward
Had the project been allowed to flourish, Levandowski laments, perhaps Freebird would today be as ubiquitous as Uber. Instead, he says, Google leaders viewed the network as a distraction and shelved the project.
For the first time, Levandowski had doubts about his future at the company. He had disagreed with the self-driving-or-bust pivot, been passed over in favor of Urmson when Thrun departed and now seethed as a novel project was shuttered. Frustrations boiled. The feelings were mutual.
“With his manipulations and lack of enthusiasm and commitment to the [self-driving] project, it became clearer and clearer that this was a lost cause,” Urmson told lawyers during an…