Ford Makes Major Investment in Self-Driving Cars
- Author: Terrell Bush Feb 12, 2017,
Feb 12, 2017, 0:27
The automaker said today it plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company founded by former Google and Uber employees to develop autonomous driving technology. The investment will go to Pittsburgh-based Argo AI.
The Argo deal marks the next step in Ford's journey toward building a vehicle without a steering wheel or brake pedal by 2021 - a vision that Ford chief executive officer Mark Fields laid out in summer a year ago.
Salesky, a self-driving auto hardware specialist who left Google's renamed Waymo vehicle program last fall, said that he made a decision to start his own company with Rander because of "the incredible advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision, but we just needed a partner to get these cars into the hands of millions of people".
Fields said the partnership will create value for shareholders by strengthening the automaker's ability to bring self-driving vehicles to market in the near term and by creating technology that could be licensed to others in the future. Argo AI expects to expand its team to more than 200 employees by the end of the year, which will be divided between the company's headquarters in Pittsburgh and other offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Ford's home state of MI.
"Ford may be one of the largest American companies, but it does not have pockets as deep as Apple and Google", The Verge notes.
Raj Nair, Ford's chief technical officer, said the company plans to build an autonomous vehicle platform than can run across Ford's line of vehicles, and it could license the technology out to other companies. Ford will transfer many of its current employees working on the system to Argo AI, and they'll receive equity in the new company, which has the option of an IPO. The company will work with "hundreds" of Ford employees now working on driverless cars in MI and in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Ford is going all in on self-driving tech.
The research will be focused on a virtual driver system capable of operating at what's called "SAE level 4". Ford also purchased a machine-vision company called SAIPS and entered into a licensing agreement with another, Nirenberg Neuroscience.
Argo AI will include roboticists and engineers from inside and outside of Ford. "This move gets us the agility and speed of a start-up combined with Ford's global scale".