Ford invests in AI and robotics startup to accelerate its self-driving program


Ford has announced that it is investing US$1bn over the next five years in Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence startup, to develop a virtual driver system for the auto maker’s autonomous vehicle that is coming in 2021, and for potential license to other companies.

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 team of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) is led by Argo AI founders Bryan Salesky, company CEO, and Peter Rander, company COO. Both are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively. The current Ford team developing its virtual driver system, the machine-learning software that acts as the brain of autonomous vehicles, will be combined with Argo AI’s robotics expertise, and the partnership will work to deliver the virtual driver system for the auto maker’s SAE level 4 self-driving vehicles.

Ford will continue to lead on development of its purpose-built autonomous vehicle hardware platform, as well as on systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management. 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. The collaboration supports Ford’s intent to have a fully autonomous, SAE level 4-capable vehicle for commercial application in mobility services in 2021.

Complementing the relationship will be Ford’s Smart Mobility division, which will lead on the commercialization strategy for the company’s self-driving vehicles, including the use of autonomous vehicles to move goods and people, such as ride sharing, ride hailing or package delivery fleets. Ford will be the majority stakeholder in Argo AI, which has been structured to operate with substantial independence, with its employees having significant equity participation in the company, enabling them to share in its success. By the end of this year, Argo AI expects to have more than 200 team members, based in the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters and at major sites in Southeastern Michigan and Bay Area in California. In the future, Argo AI could license its technology to other companies and sectors looking for autonomous capability.

“We are at an inflection point in using artificial intelligence in a wide range of applications, and the successful deployment of self-driving cars will fundamentally change how people and goods move,” said Argo’s Salesky. “We are energized by Ford’s commitment and vision for the future of mobility, and we believe this partnership will enable self-driving cars to be commercialized and deployed at scale to extend affordable mobility to all.”

Raj Nair, Ford’s chief technical officer, commented, “This open collaboration is unlike any other partnership; combining the speed of a startup with our strengths in scaling technology, systems integration, and vehicle design.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).