Tuesday, 14 February 2017 12:56

Ford announces US$1 billion AI investment

By Doron Beer

Ford Motor Company will invest US$1 billion during the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company, to develop a virtual driver system for the automaker’s autonomous vehicle which is expected in 2021 – and for potentially licensing to other companies.

Founded by former Google and Uber leaders, Argo AI has roboticists and engineers working in autonomy from inside and outside of Ford.

The team is led by Argo AI founders Bryan Salesky (chief executive) and Peter Rander (chief operating officer). Both are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Centre and former leaders on the Google and Uber self-driving car teams.

“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 chief executive 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.”

The current team developing Ford’s virtual driver system – the machine-learning software that acts as the brain of autonomous vehicles – will join the robotics experts of Argo AI and work to deliver the virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE level 4 self-driving vehicles.

Ford will continue to lead on development of its purpose-built autonomous vehicle hardware platform, as well as on systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management.

Argo AI will help strengthen the commercialisation of self-driving vehicles.

The partnership aims to combine the benefits of a technology start-up with the experience and discipline of the automaker’s industry-leading autonomous vehicle development programme.

“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 energised by Ford’s commitment and vision for the future of mobility, and we believe this partnership will enable self-driving cars to be commercialised and deployed at scale to extend affordable mobility to all.”

The collaboration supports Ford’s intent to have a fully autonomous, SAE level 4-capable vehicle for commercial application in mobility services in 2021.

“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 start-up with Ford’s strengths in scaling technology, systems integration and vehicle design.”

Ford Smart Mobility will also be part of the effort and lead on the commercialisation of Ford’s self-driving vehicles. This includes choices for using autonomous vehicles to move goods and people, such as ride-sharing, ride-hailing or package-delivery fleets.

Ford will be the majority stakeholder in Argo AI which has been structured to operate with substantial independence.

The Argo AIs board includes Nair, John Casesa, Ford group vice-president, Global Strategy, Salesky, Rander, and an independent director.

The investment in Argo AI will be over five years and fits in with the autonomous vehicle capital allocation plan shared last September as part of Ford Investor Day.

By year-end, Argo AI expects to have more than 200 staff, 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 could license its technology to other companies and sectors looking for autonomous capability.

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