As part of its push to bring self-driving vehicles to market within the near future, Ford Motor Company will be investing $1 billion into the artificial intelligence firm Argo AI over the next 5 years, according to a new press release from the company.
The investment will reportedly see the development of a virtual driver system for use in “the automaker’s autonomous vehicle coming in 2021.”
The President and CEO of Ford, Mark Fields (yes, that Mark Fields), commented on the news: “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. 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 press release reveals that Ford’s current virtual driver system team will apparently be combined “with the robotics talent and expertise of Argo AI” — Ford will unsurprisingly continue developing its self-driving vehicle hardware platform itself.
The press release provides more: “Ford will be the majority stakeholder in Argo AI. Importantly, Argo AI has been structured to operate with substantial independence. Its employees will have significant equity participation in the company, enabling them to share in its success. Argo AI’s board will have five members: Nair; John Casesa, Ford group vice president, Global Strategy; Salesky; Rander; and an independent director.”
The plan is apparently now for Argo AI to employ more than 200 people by the end of 2016 — with employees working out of the firm’s Pittsburgh headquarter, the Bay Area (California), and Southeastern Michigan.
As some background here, Argo AI was founded by engineers that formerly worked on Google’s and Uber’s self-driving vehicle development teams, Bryan Salesky (company CEO) and Peter Rander (the company’s COO), respectively. Notably, the two are both Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center alumni.
Given that GM CEO Mary Barra and others have pointed out that EVs are the only logical choice for autonomous cars, you would think that Ford is planning for its autonomous cars to be fully electric as well … but who knows?