Ford has had a big impact on automobiles in the 20th century. And from its recent actions, it seems the automaker doesn't want to play a downgraded role in the 21st. On Feb. 10, Ford announced that it will invest $1 billion over the next five years into Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup, to help structure its autonomous vehicle program, making the arms race to build and deploy autonomous vehicles even more interesting.
The Argo AI team is headed by Brian Salesky who used to serve as program manager for Google’s self-driving cars unit, and Peter Rander, previously an engineer for Uber. The team will combine with Ford’s current unit focusing on the company’s virtual driver system, which as described in the press release as “the machine learning software that acts as the brain of autonomous vehicles.”
The partnership is essentially Ford acknowledging that it has the resources and know-how to build vehicles at scale, but needs some assistance in the robotics. Ford has announced that they are looking to launch a level 4 autonomous vehicle for commercial markets by 2021.
“As Ford expands to be an auto and a mobility company, 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,” said Ford president and CEO Mark Fields in the release.
The Argo AI team will rapidly expand its employee base, recruiting 200 team members to fill positions in Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley and Southeast Michigan. The team will operate with “substantial independence” and its employees will retain significant equity participation in the company: Ford will become the majority stakeholder.