Ford Announces $1B Investment In AI Tech

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) will invest $1 billion in an artificial intelligence company as part of its efforts to develop self-driving cars by 2021. The $1 billion investment is consistent with the autonomous vehicle capital allocation plan shared last September. The investment will go to Pittsburgh-based Argo AI.

Argo AI is led by founders Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander, who are former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively. Salesky and Rander met while working at Carnegie Mellon University’s prestigious robotics and engineering school. Salesky said, “We are energized by Ford’s commitment and vision for the future of mobility, and we believe this partnership will enable self-driving cars to be commercialized and deployed at scale to extend affordable mobility to all.”

Argo AI will develop a virtual driver system for the automaker’s autonomous vehicle. The system will rely on computer algorithms to process data coming from an array of sensors that help the car navigate. Argo AI said in a statement that they will “develop and deploy the latest advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision to help build safe and efficient self-driving vehicles that enable these transformations and more.” The system may also be available for license to other companies, according to Ford.

Argo AI has been structured to operate with substantial independence. Argo AI’s board consist of five members: Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development; John Casesa, Ford group vice president, Global Strategy; Salesky; Rander; and an independent director. Ford will be the majority stakeholder in the company.

Argo AI will include roboticists and engineers from inside and outside of Ford. The current team developing Ford’s virtual driver system will be combined with the talent of Argo AI. Argo AI is hiring now and plans to have 200 high-tech jobs at its headquarters and its facilities in Southeastern Michigan and the San Francisco area by the end of the year. Argo AI employees will share in the startup’s growth through their equity participation.

Ford will continue to lead on development of vehicle hardware, exterior and interior design, manufacturing, and regulatory policy management. Ford Smart Mobility LLC will also be complementing the relationship, leading on the commercialization strategy for the project. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said of the project, “This investment, which also brings jobs to this region, takes full advantage of the intellectual talent and work ethic at our great universities, and merges traditional industry with next generation innovation.”