Ford hopes to bring autonomous vehicles a little closer to reality through its partnership with an artificial intelligence company.
Ford is driving toward a driverless future. On Friday, the company announced a $1 billion investment over the course of the next five years in artificial intelligence company Argo AI. The goal will be to “develop a new software platform for Ford’s fully autonomous vehicle coming in 2021” by combining the automaker’s expertise in cars and Argo’s experience in robotics. The results of the partnership may also be licensed to other companies, should they prove successful.
Argo certainly has the pedigree to make this a fruitful relationship — after all, founders Bryan Salesky (who now serves as the CEO) and Peter Rander (chief operating officer) formerly led the self-driving car teams at Google and Uber, respectively. The duo and their team seeks to produce the virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE level self-driving cars.
“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.”
With this new investment, Ford will become the majority stakeholder in Argo AI, but a joint press release notes that Argo AI will operate with “substantial independence,” and that its employees will maintain “significant equity participation in the company.” Argo AI’s employee headcount is growing fast — by the end of 2017, the company says it will have more than 200 team members.
“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.”