Ford Acquires Majority Ownership of Self-Driving Car Startup Argo AI

Ford and Argo AI announce investment

Ford is giving Google and Uber veterans $1 billion to build a self-driving car brain

Uber has been doubling down its on its self-driving efforts, previous year acquiring self-driving trucking company Otto and artificial intelligence and machine learning research startup Geometric Intelligence.

For its part, Argo AI, founded by Bryan Salesky (Google) and Peter Rander (Uber), is looking to go on a hiring spree to build out the company.

"From an accounting standpoint, [Argo AI] is a subsidiary", said Ford CEO Mark Fields today at an event in San Francisco. Ford has been on the leading edge of this trend, announcing in August previous year that it plans to put an SAE level 4 autonomous vehicle into mass production as a ride-sharing service in 2021. Chief Operating Office Peter Rander worked on driverless technology at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.

Salesky said Argo expects to have 200 workers by the end of the year. Ford CEO Mark Fields said it will operate independently and have it's own board of directors.

The deal offers "the benefits of a tech start-up ... with the scale and discipline we have at Ford", Fields said. The former led the hardware division of Alphabet's Waymo unit or what we know then as the Google Self-Driving Car Project.

"We were very impressed".

Ford is going all in on self-driving tech.

Ford has made other efforts to ramp up its self-driving vehicle program. The system will also cover the license to other companies. It invested $75 million into Velodyne, a company that makes sensors for self-driving cars, and acquired an Israeli machine learning company called SAIPS.

Salesky said it's important to reward engineers from both companies as one team.

Previous year rival General Motors Co paid US$581 million to buy Cruise Automation, a 40-person software company that is testing vehicles in San Francisco.

Uber is busy testing self-driving vehicle software in a $300-million partnership with Volvo, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has teamed up with Waymo to create a fleet of 100 self-driving Pacifica hybrid minivans.

Chinese giant Baidu had hoped to give its self-driving program a boost through a partnership with BMW, before that venture fell through last fall due to differences on project trajectory. However, the company will also be recruiting in Silicon Valley and south MI.

Argo AI, based in Pittsburgh, will provide the "brains" for virtual driving systems.

The cars that hit the streets in 2021 would be capable of SAE Level 4 autonomy, which means the virtual-driver software should be able to handle typical road conditions unassisted.

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