Ford pumps $1bn into ex-Google, Uber engineers’ AI startup

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/MoMorad)

Ford has announced plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years into an AI startup co-founded by engineers who held positions in Google and Uber's respective self-driving vehicle teams. 

The engineers who co-founded Argo AI would make an enviable addition to any company looking for their slice of the emerging connected car market. Brian Salesky, CEO of Argo AI, was director of hardware for Google’s self-driving car project. Peter Rander, COO of Argo AI, was engineering lead at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center. 

“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. “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.” 

Artificial intelligence will be vital to self-driving cars over the coming years to make quick and safe decisions based on unpredictable road conditions. While handling the driving, the in-car AI will also be expected to provide a comfortable ride to passengers in the car and respond to queries such as changing the route or making calls. 

“Working together with Argo AI gives Ford a distinct competitive advantage at the intersection of the automotive and technology industries,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer. “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.” 
 
Every major car manufacturer is looking to emerge a leader in self-driving cars and companies such as Audi, Tesla, Baidu, Nissan, and Toyota all have plans to get their respective technologies out their labs and onto the road by 2020. 

Ford has long been pushing boundaries of autonomous vehicle technology. Back in 2015, we headed out to Ford’s innovation center in Berlin to hear about some of the advancements they’ve made and captured footage of their self-parking and traffic jam assistance features in action. Since then, Ford is sure to have made further advancements, but so have competitors. 

“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. “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.” 

While the underlying technology is becoming more robust, it’s not quite ready for prime time. Dmitri Dolgov, head of self-driving technology at Waymo, recently said that people have too much trust when they see autonomous car technology working for a short period of time when it’s not yet developed enough to rely on. 

Once the self-driving technology is capable enough for consumers to have faith in, the next obstacle will be complying with national laws and regulations. As we reported last week, the UK has plans for how insurance will evolve to include self-driving vehicles with ‘two-in-one’ policies. 

By the end of this year, Argo AI expects to have more than 200 team members, based in the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters and at major sites in Southeastern Michigan and the Bay Area of California. Argo AI’s initial focus will be to support Ford’s autonomous vehicle development and production. In the future, Argo AI says it could license its technology to other companies and sectors looking for autonomous capability. 

What are your thoughts on Ford’s AI investment? Let us know in the comments. 

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