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Ford Invests $1 Billion In Artificial Intelligence Startup Argo AI And Here’s Why

11 February 2017, 7:21 am EST By Randell Suba Tech Times
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Ford drops big dollars in artificial intelligence startup founded by Google and Uber veterans. Here’s what it is trying to accomplish as it becomes majority stakeholder of Argo AI.  ( David Paul Morris | Getty Images )

Ford has announced it's investing $1 billion over the next five years in Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence startup Argo AI. Let's try to make sense why the carmaker is willing to drop 1 followed by a ton of zeroes to develop a car technology.

What Ford Will Get Out Of The Deal With Argo AI

Ford is looking to roll out an autonomous vehicle in 2021 and it is tapping Argo AI to develop a virtual driver system that will allow its so called look-ma-no-hands vehicle of the future.

"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 in a statement. "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."

The virtual driver system, translated into English, will be the brain of the self-driving car. This car technology will help the car "learn" so it will not crash into other vehicles, slam into walls, or hit pedestrians. These so-called skills of the software will, of course, be dependent on hardware components such as cameras and sensors and so on that Ford will focus on.

Ford has a team of experts developing this software and this team will collaborate with the robotics talent and expertise of the people from Argo AI. The car manufacturer is hoping that this move will up the chances of bringing its SAE Level 4 self-driving cars to consumers as scheduled.

"Working together with Argo AI gives Ford a distinct competitive advantage at the intersection of the automotive and technology industries," said Ford chief technical officer and executive vice president for global product development Raj Nair.

Spending $1 billion is as good as acquiring another big company but the big money bag is just making Ford a majority stakeholder in Argo AI. The remaining portion of Argo AI will still be owned by its founders Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander. Other team members of Argo AI, including some engineers that will jump from Ford will also be part owners

"There's a war for talent out there. While we have the majority, we're giving a significant chunk to Bryan and Peter and the employees so they can be competitive with the other startups in this space," said Fields.

Who's Behind Argo AI

Argo is a relatively very young company. Consider it a baby as it was just founded last year. Salesky is Argo AI's CEO and cofounder. Rander is also a cofounder who serves as the company's COO. The company is based in Pennsylvania and has headquarters in Michigan and California.

Salesky and Rander are not new in the self-driving vehicle niche. Both were from the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. The former led the hardware division of Alphabet's Waymo unit or what we know then as the Google Self-Driving Car Project. The latter worked as one of the top engineers of Uber Technologies.

Argo AI also has Brett Browning as its VP for robotics. Browning was a senior faculty member at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He also led the mapping and localization team of Uber.

We do not have an idea how big is Argo AI's team at the moment but the AI firm is planning to have 200 employees by the end of 2017.

Ford is hoping to come up with a car that's more intelligent and safe than the autonomous vehicles we see today and Argo AI shares the same vision.

"Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, to extend personal mobility to many who might not have it, and to transform the landscape of an urban setting. On the safety front, the always-attentive capability of a self-driving vehicle can remove concerns over driver distraction," Salesky wrote.

"... we are a team that believes in tackling hard, meaningful problems to improve the world. Our ambitions can only be realized if we are willing to partner with others and keep an open mind about how to solve problems," he added

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