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Ford Investing $1B in Artificial Intelligence Start-Up

Argo AI and Ford executives

L-R: Peter Rander, Argo AI COO; Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO; Bryan Salesky, Argo AI CEO; and Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Product Development, and chief technical officer. (Ford Motor Co.)

13 February 2017. Ford Motor Company is investing $1 billion in a start-up enterprise that applies artificial intelligence to the operation and management of autonomous vehicles. The equity stake in Pittsburgh-based Argo AI is expected to help Ford complete the software platform for its autonomous vehicles planned for 2021.

Argo AI develops software that combines artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision to support a vehicle that largely replaces the driver, and as the company says in a white paper, “is connected, intelligent, and able to safely operate itself alone or as part of a shared fleet.” Argo AI anticipates shared fleets of self-driving vehicles will be a transformative advancement in transportation, providing greater safety, reduced traffic congestion, and mobility for people who cannot or find it difficult to drive themselves.

Ford plans to merge Argo AI’s software into its virtual driver system to support Ford’s goal of producing by 2021 a vehicle that meets SAE International’s standards for Level 4 indicating “high automation.” This automation level assigns all driving activity to an automated system, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene. SAE level 5, the top level, indicates “full automation,” which assigns full-time dynamic driving to the autonomous system, including all encounters with roadway and environmental conditions.

Ford plans to invest $1 billion over 5 years, giving the company a majority stake in Argo AI. Argo AI is still expected to operate independently, with its employees given “significant equity participation,” although further financial details were not disclosed. Argo AI plans to grow its payroll to 200 employees, based in Pittsburgh, as well as sites in Michigan and California’s Bay Area.

Argo AI was founded by Bryan Salesky, now the company’s CEO, and Peter Rander, Argo AI’s chief operating officer. Both Salesky and Rander are alumni of National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University and former leaders of self-driving vehicle projects at Google and Uber, respectively.

“We are at an inflection point in using artificial intelligence in a wide range of applications,” says Salesky in a Ford statement,” and the successful deployment of self-driving cars will fundamentally change how people and goods move.”

Joining the initiative is Ford Smart Mobility LLC, a subsidiary for designing and developing mobility services. When begun in March 2016, Ford said this unit would lead the company’s drive to become a mobility as well as an auto company. Ford defines “mobility,” in this sense as using autonomous vehicles to move goods and people, such as ride sharing, ride hailing or package delivery fleets.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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