Ford is investing $1B to develop its driverless car's brain

Ford announced last Friday that it will inject $1 billion into an artificial intelligence startup called Argo AI, to build up the brain systems of its self-driving cars.

    Feb 17, 2017 3:15 PM  PT
Ford is investing $1B to develop its driverless car's brain
author: Claire   

The startup is based in Pittsburgh, Michigan and has been secretly running for months. It was founded by Bryan Salesky, ex-engineer of Google's  self-driving team and Peter Rander, who led Uber's driverless project until September 2016. By putting in the investment into Argo AI, Ford hopes to catch up with the other tech pioneers in the autonomous car field to realize its fully driverless goal by 2021. 

"We have a very good team, but this ability to put that into a startup team environment, put it under the leadership of two pioneers in the autonomous vehicle technology field, (and) have the compensation package that will attract incremental talent, I think all of that is a win-win-win situation," Raj Nair, Ford's Executive VP of global product development and CTO told The Detroit News.

As part of the deal, Argo AI will assist Ford in developing a virtual-driver system, which is like the "brain" of the vehicle, to make the car's self-driving ability possible. Ford CEO Mark Fields also mentioned at a recent event in San Francisco that the system once built up, can be licensed to other companies. 

"Argo AI's initial focus will be solely and exclusively to support Ford's efforts to bring our autonomous vehicle to the marketplace," he said. 

The US auto giant has been emphasizing its ambitious goal to make its level-5 fully autonomous cars on road in 5 years. By saying level-5, Ford is aiming for the highest degree of automation—the car will have no pedals and steering wheel, and completely drive by itself. 

In August 2016, Ford made four investments to partner with other companies to develop its driverless technology. It invested $75 million in LiDAR sensor company Velodyne; acquiring Israel-based computer vision startup SAIPS; investing in Civil Maps for 3D mapping development and endorsed an exclusive licensing agreement with machine vision company Nirenberg Neuroscience. By partnering with suppliers that have leading technology in certain field, Ford intends to accelerate its speed in producing the next-gen intelligent car. 

On the other hand, Argo AI expects to hire more 200 employees by the end of 2017, but remains quite secretive on when it founded and the current company size. Although the "brain" part will be in charge by Argo AI, Ford will continue to lead in its driverless car's hardware development, system integration, design and production and also management of government regulations.