CARS.COM — Ford is placing a $1 billion wager that self-driving cars are the wave of the future with its purchase of Argo AI, a startup firm specializing in robotics and artificial intelligence related to developing future means of mobility. Prior to this announcement, Ford had already committed itself to introducing a self-driving vehicle by 2021. Initially, this vehicle will likely be focused on car-sharing and ride-hailing networks such as Uber and Lyft.
It should come as no surprise to discover that both of Argo AI’s founders, CEO Bryan Salesky and COO Peter Rander, have previous experience working on the autonomous drive programs at Google and Uber.
Ford recently showed a much sleeker version of its Fusion sedan self-drive prototype fleet. These newer models not only do without the clunky, roof-mounted sensor arrays worn by previous models, they’re also notably smarter than before. It’s not clear if the Fusion will remain the bulwark of Ford’s test fleet as it works with Argo AI, however.
What is known is that the company is set to become a standalone division within Ford devoted to bringing artificial intelligence to the automotive world. It’s all part of Ford’s plan to transform itself into a mobility company rather than just a builder of cars and trucks.
“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,” said Ford president and CEO Mark Fields.
Why Should I Care? Fields says Ford wants to become a leader in this emerging autonomous drive market, while also potentially licensing its future self-driving technology to third parties. “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.”
Who this might be remains to be seen, though it’s highly possible Ford will add more partnerships to its growing self-drive/Argo AI plans. The company is already working closely with Uber to develop self-driving taxis. Whatever the details might be, at least everyone agrees on one key thing: Self-driving cars are going to transform the world.
“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,” said Salesky.
Ford’s substantial investment in this small, Pittsburgh-based startup might seem like a dangerous gamble. Yet the $1 billion investment will be made over five years, and it’s highly likely that performance targets must be met as the self-drive deadline of 2021 approaches. Argo AI’s team is expected to expand to approximately 200 by the end of 2017, with new hires based at the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters as well as locations in Southeastern Michigan and California’s Bay Area.