Published: Sun, February 12, 2017
Hi-Tech | By Lula West

Ford to pump $1B into AI for driverless cars

Ford to pump $1B into AI for driverless cars

Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander have each led autonomous vehicle programs at Google and Uber respectively, and tapping their talents will increase Ford's robustness in delivering its promise of delivering an SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicle to market by 2021.

"With Argo AI's agility and also Ford's scale, we're combining the benefits of a technology startup...with the experience and discipline we have", Mark Fields, Ford's chief executive, told reporters Friday.

Ford is set to invest $1bn over the next five years in a new driverless auto unit Argo, marking a significant step ahead in the carmaker's goal of launching a commercial self-driving vehicle fleet by 2021. Peter Rander was an engineering lead at Uber's self-driving vehicle arm - now called the Advanced Technology Group - until September a year ago. Chief Executive Bryan Salesky worked on hardware development for self-driving systems at Google.

Argo AI says it expects to have more than 200 employees working at engineering hubs in Pittsburgh, the Detroit area and the San Francisco Bay Area by the end of this year. This is where things get tricky: Argo AI will still kinda function as a startup with its own board, it can offer equity to lure top-line engineers, and it retains the right to license whatever tech it creates to anyone. "Ford Motor Co.'s equity is based on the much larger automotive and manufacturing business".

That explains why Ford has placed a $1 billion bet on what is effectively a start-up technology company - Argo AI.

Once the technology is fully developed for Ford, both companies said, it could be licensed to other companies.

-In the race to make self-driving cars an everyday reality, Ford may have just pulled into the lead.

Salesky said "we 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".

"We were very impressed".

It's the latest high-priced investment that a major company has made in self-driving vehicle engineers.

The war for robotics talent in the heating up-and to give itself a fighting chance, Ford is investing $1 billion in startup Argo AI. In 2016 joined Chinese search giant Baidu to invest about $150 million in Velodyne, which manufacturers LiDAR sensors.

With the investment, Ford will become the majority stakeholder in Argo AI.

Nearly a year ago, General Motors (GM) spent $1 billion to acquire Cruise Automation. Rander is also a cofounder who serves as the company's COO.

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