Ford Motor Co. showed just how serious it is about the future of self-driving cars today, announcing plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years in the secretive artificial intelligence startup Argo AI.
Founded by veterans of self-driving car projects at Google Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., Argo AI will become a subsidiary of Ford under the new deal and will help with the automaker’s own self-driving car initiatives. Ford also noted that the technology developed by Argo AI could eventually be licensed out.
“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 Chief Executive Mark Fields.
Agro AI founders Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander will continue to lead the company under Ford, and the startup’s AI and robotics knowledge will be applied to Ford’s own existing AI projects. Ford noted in its release that Argo AI’s expertise will help the company develop the virtual driver system for Ford’s highly automated “SAE level 4” self-driving vehicles.
The investment in Argo AI is a smart move for Ford, a traditional auto company racing against tech giants such as Google and non-traditional car companies such as Tesla Inc. Ford’s focus is on not only developing reliable self-driving technology, but also on making that technology commercially viable for mass-produced cars.
“This open collaboration is unlike any other partnership – allowing us to benefit from combining the speed of a startup with Ford’s strengths in scaling technology, systems integration and vehicle design,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s chief technical officer and executive vice president of global product development.
According to Ford, the investment in Argo AI is structured to allow the startup to continue to operate with a high degree of independence, and the company’s employees will receive “significant equity” to share in Argo AI’s success. 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 Michigan.