Ford will pour $1 billion into Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence startup, with the goal of developing a virtual driver system for its autonomous vehicles, the automaker announced.
Founded by former Google and Uber leaders, “Argo AI is bringing together some of the most experienced roboticists and engineers working in autonomy from inside and outside of Ford,” the automaker said.
“The next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile, and autonomous vehicles will have as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” said Ford President and CEO Mark Fields. “As Ford expands to be an auto and a mobility company, we believe that investing in Argo AI will create significant value for our shareholders by strengthening Ford’s leadership in bringing self-driving vehicles to market in the near term and by creating technology that could be licensed to others in the future.”
Argo AI CEO Bryan Salesky and COO Peter Rander lead the team of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence. Both are alumni of the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.
Argo AI’s initial focus will be to support Ford’s autonomous-vehicle development and production. In the future, Argo AI could license its technology to other companies and sectors looking for autonomous capability, Ford said.
Agility and Scale
The current team developing Ford’s virtual driver system – the machine-learning software that acts as the brain of autonomous vehicles – will be combined with Argo AI. The partnership will focus on delivering the virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE Level 4 self-driving vehicles.
Ford will continue to lead the development of its purpose-built autonomous-vehicle hardware platform, as well as systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management, the automaker said.
Argo AI will join forces with Ford’s autonomous-vehicle software development effort to strengthen the commercialization of self-driving vehicles.
“Argo AI’s agility and Ford’s scale uniquely combine the benefits of a technology startup with the experience and discipline of the automaker’s industry-leading autonomous-vehicle development program,” Ford said in a news release.
Fully Autonomous Vehicle by 2021
The collaboration supports Ford’s intent to have a fully autonomous, SAE Level 4-capable vehicle for commercial application in mobility services in 2021.
“Working together with Argo AI gives Ford a distinct competitive advantage at the intersection of the automotive and technology industries,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, global product development, and chief technical officer. “This open collaboration is unlike any other partnership – allowing us to benefit from combining the speed of a startup with Ford’s strengths in scaling technology, systems integration and vehicle design.”
Although Ford will be the majority stakeholder in Argo AI, the automaker noted that Argo AI will operate “with substantial independence,” and its employees will have “significant equity participation in the company.”
Ford will make the $1 billion investment over five years.
By the end of 2017, Argo AI expects to have more than 200 employees, based in the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters and at major sites in southeastern Michigan and the Bay Area of California.