Ford’s march towards 2021 is a difficult and expensive one. In order to bring its Level 4 autonomous ridesharing fleet to the market, the automaker announced today a $1 billion investment in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence and robotics startup. This move makes Ford the majority owner of the company, which is now tasked with building the robotic brain that will power Ford’s fleet.
Argo AI is based in Pittsburgh and was founded in 2016 by former leaders from Google and Uber, two companies working hard on their own autonomous vehicle programs. Bryan Salesky worked for years on Google’s autonomous car project, while Peter Rander was in charge of Uber’s self-driving efforts until late last year. Both were involved with the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center.
Ford will be moving employees currently working internally on its virtual driver system over to Argo AI. In an investor and media briefing today, Ford CEO Mark Fields said that Argo AI will essentially be an independent subsidiary of the automaker. The deal would still allow Argo AI to license its virtual driver software to other manufacturers. Argo AI will in turn partner with Ford’s other divisions on the autonomous vehicle project. By the end of the year, Argo AI expects to have 200 total employees.
Although most every major automaker is working on some form of self-driving cars, Ford has been far more open and forthcoming with detail than many of its competitors. The company is making no secret of its shift in focus away from strictly designing and building traditional automobiles.