Ford will pour $1 billion over the next five years into an artificial intelligence company tasked with developing the technology that will one day drive its autonomous vehicles.
The technology could also be licensed to other automakers in the future, executives said.
Pittsburgh-based Argo AI was founded late last year by Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander, who previously worked on self-driving car initiatives at Google and Uber, respectively. The company will include the staff inside Ford that has been developing its virtual driver system for the past several years.
In a phone call Friday, CEO Mark Fields said the investment will help Ford bring its self-driving cars to market by its previously stated goal of 2021. It will also open a new revenue stream if Ford licenses the technology to carmakers who have not developed their own autonomous driving systems.
That licensing model will put Ford in direct competition with Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, which announced plans this year to develop both hardware and software for self-driving cars. Previously, Waymo focused solely on software, but executives decided that it was necessary to also build the sensors and cameras on the vehicle if its system was to be sophisticated enough to handle fully autonomous driving.
During an interview at the Detroit Auto Show in January, Ford Chief Technical Officer Raj Nair said Ford’s experience making vehicles will give it an advantage over Waymo and other competitors.
“We’ll see where they go with the autonomous vehicle,” Nair said in January. “The comment on doing both the hardware and the software is correct, but I think it’s pretty limiting if you don’t include the vehicle as hardware.
“The ability to integrate into the vehicle and be able to do the vehicle engineering is just as key,” Nair added. “It’s not going to be any good if the software program doesn’t know how to talk to the vehicle.”
Argo AI will count 200 employees by the end of this year, executives said. It will have a headquarters in Pittsburgh, with additional offices in Southeastern Michigan and the San Francisco Bay area.
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