From The Editors Technology

Ford Makes Inroads in the Autonomous Car Scramble – Invests $1 Billion in AI

Ford has taken on board Argo AI to jumpstart its self-driving car program with an invest announcement of $1 billion in the Artificial Intelligence startup run by roboticists and engineers from the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). “With Argo AI’s agility and Ford’s scale, we’re combining the benefits of a technology startup with the experience and discipline we have at Ford,” said Mark Fields, CEO Ford, in regards to the billion-dollar deal.

Argo AI is a less-than-a-year-old startup founded by former Google and Uber veterans Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander respectively. While CEO Salesky had been the head of hardware at Alphabet’s car division for three years, COO Rander was one of the top engineers in Uber before they got together to form the startup.

The company, based in Pittsburgh was established with the main purpose of addressing challenges facing self-driving cars such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

The Ford Motor Company, on the other hand, has been in the auto making business since 1903. The company was founded by Henry Ford and is headquartered in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb in the state of Michigan. It has the wherewithal and experience to back Argo AI to the hilt in order to deliver on its promise of putting the Ford brand of self-driving cars on the roads in 2021.

Salesky and Rander are going to head the Ford project in the area of virtual driver system capability and have plans of hiring 200 employees to meet the project requirements of the company’s engineering hubs in Pittsburgh, South Eastern Michigan and the Bay Area of California by the year end.

While the $1 billion investment will be released over a period of five years Ford is expected to become the highest shareholder in Argo AI with immediate effect. The company, however, has refrained from giving any information on its stake in the fledgling company.

Thus far, this is the highest Ford has invested in self-driving technology having acquired Chariot, an on-demand shuttle service for much less than $1 billion in 2016. Likewise, last year, General Motors bought off self-driving startup Cruise for$1 billion and Uber acquired Otto, a self-driving truck company for $680 million.

“Our view [is that], in the future, there will be a number of players that will have systems,” Ford CEO Mark Fields told Recode in an interview – as reported by Recode. “There won’t be just one winner. But at the same time, we can offer that to other companies where it doesn’t compromise our competitive advantages. We think that’s a great opportunity to get even more scale and create some value for the companies.”

According to Ford, Argo AI will have a good degree of independence in that it will remain headquartered in Pittsburgh and have a say in two board seats while Ford is reported to have nomination plans for Raj Nair, head of research and development, and Vice President John Casea, as its equal share of two representatives on the board while the fifth will be an independent seat.

The future of self-driving cars seems to be in good hands with Uber, Tesla, Google, Apple and now Ford in the race to perfect the autonomous car technology.