Ford Motor Co. says it’s investing $1 billion over the next five years in a Pittsburgh startup called Argo AI to develop the virtual-driver system for Ford’s autonomous vehicles.
Argo AI was founded only a few weeks ago by CEO Bryan Salesky, who directed hardware development for Google’s self-driving cars; and chief operating officer Peter Rander, who led Uber’s program to develop self-driving cars.
Salesky and Rander, as well as other Argo AI executives, have worked on robotics and AI at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which helps explain the placement of the startup’s headquarters.
The technology coming out of the collaboration could be licensed to other companies, Ford President and CEO Mark Fields said today in a statement announcing the deal.
“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,” Fields said.
Salesky said “we 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.”
Argo AI says it expects to have more than 200 employees working at engineering hubs in Pittsburgh, the Detroit area and the San Francisco Bay Area by the end of this year.
Last year, Ford announced plans to develop a mass-production autonomous vehicle for ride-hailing and other commercial applications by 2021. It’s already deep into road testing for autonomous versions of its Ford Fusion Hybrid.
The cars that hit the streets in 2021 would be capable of SAE Level 4 autonomy, which means the virtual-driver software should be able to handle typical road conditions unassisted. In comparison, Tesla’s Autopilot software is regarded as somewhere around Level 2 or 3, although the company is shooting for Level 5 by 2018.
Today’s announcement serves as one more indication that the drive toward autonomous vehicles is shifting into a higher gear:
- Google’s self-driving spin-off, Waymo, is ramping up testing of its autonomous Chrysler minivans in Arizona and California.
- GM is testing an all-electric, self-driving Chevy Bolt code-named “Albatross” on the streets of San Francisco.
- Audi is teaming up with one of the country’s top chipmakers, Nvidia, to create an advanced autonomous car by 2020.
- BMW is working on a self-driving, electric, connected car called iNEXT that’s scheduled to make its debut in 2021.
- Toyota has unveiled a prototype vehicle called Concept-i, featuring an AI agent that’s designed to build a “meaningful” relationship with the car’s driver.
- Uber has been working with Ford and Volvo to test autonomous ride-sharing vehicles in Pittsburgh.