SAN FRANCISCO—Ford Motor Company will invest $1 billion during the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company, to develop a virtual driver system for an autonomous vehicle that Ford is aiming to deliver in 2021, the company announced recently. Although Argo AI’s initial focus will be to support Ford’s autonomous vehicle development and production, Argo AI could, in the future, license its technology to other companies and sectors looking for autonomous capability, according to a release from Ford.
Argo AI (www.argo.ai) is bringing together, from inside and outside of Ford, experienced roboticists and engineers working in autonomy. The team of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence 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 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, in a prepared statement. “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.”
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 the robotics talent and expertise of Argo AI. This collaborative team will work to deliver the virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE level 4 self-driving vehicles. Ford intends to have a fully autonomous, SAE level 4-capable vehicle for commercial application in mobility services in 2021.
Argo AI’s agility and Ford’s scale are said to uniquely combine the benefits of a technology startup with the experience and discipline of the automaker’s autonomous vehicle development program.
“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 Salesky in the release. “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.”
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.
“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, in a statement. “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.”
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 the Bay Area of California.