Ford Invests $1B Toward 2021 Autonomous Vehicle

(from l. to r.) Peter Rander, Mark Fields, Bryan Salesky, and Raj Nair
(from l. to r.) Peter Rander, Mark Fields, Bryan Salesky, and Raj Nair

Ford will invest $1 billion in Pittsburgh-based Argo AI, a startup focusing on artificial intelligence, to develop a software platform for a fully autonomous vehicle it plans to make available for ride hailing in 2021, the company has announced.

Argo AI was founded last year by Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander, who left Google and Uber respectively. Salesky, Argo AI's CEO, and Rander, the company's COO, are both alumni of the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center.

As part of the investment, Mark Fields, Ford's president and CEO, and Raj Nair, Ford's executive vice president of product development and chief technical officer, will join Argo AI's board, which will also include Salesky, Rander, and an independent director.

"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," Fields said.

The autonomous vehicle technology developed through the partnership could be licensed to other automakers, Fields said.

Associates now 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 to deliver the virtual driver system for Ford's SAE level 4 self-driving vehicles.

Ford will develop the autonomous vehicle hardware and take the lead on systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management, according to Ford.

"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," Salesky said. "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."

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