Eyeing a Self-Driving Future, Ford Drops $1B on an AI Startup

Eyeing a Self-Driving Future, Ford Drops $1B on an AI Startup”

The $1 billion investment over the next five years - which turns the AI startup into a subsidiary of the more than 100-year-old automaker - is part of a string of big bets Ford has made on self-driving cars in the last year.

And Ford also made a series of investments a year ago to boost its self-driving program.

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 past year. "When we talked to others, it was very clear that Ford was one of the few manufacturers that really understands the full ecosystem that needs to come together for self-driving cars", he says. The company will work with "hundreds" of Ford employees now working on driverless cars in MI and in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"They're taking a lead on the autonomous vehicle platform and the design of the vehicle, we're taking a lead on the virtual driver system, and we just need to make sure we end up in the same spot", Salesky says.

Ford CEO Mark Fields and Argo AI executives declined to say exactly how much money Ford is paying to become a majority stakeholder in Argo AI, or even exactly how many employees now work for the start-up. The company was formed "late last year" by Salesky and Rander, both alumni of Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center, which is a leader in the development of artificial intelligence and autonomous driving technology.

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With this investment, the automaker will also become the largest shareholder in Argo AI.

Tim McNulty, spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, said the city has been told the company expects to hire 200 employees in the city within the next year.

The research will be focused on a virtual driver system capable of operating at what's called "SAE level 4". It will be headquartered in Pittsburgh, with additional offices in MI and in Silicon Valley.

"There may be opportunities to license the technology developed by Argo AI to other OEMs", he said. The former led the hardware division of Alphabet's Waymo unit or what we know then as the Google Self-Driving Car Project.

"With Argo's agility and its scale, we are combining the benefits of a technology start-up with the experience and discipline we have at Ford".

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