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Ford investing $1B in startup Argo AI to advance autonomous driving to SAE Level 4; potential for licensing

Ford is investing $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI—an artificial intelligence software startup founded by former Google and Uber leaders—to to develop an SAE Level 4 virtual driver system for the automaker’s autonomous vehicle coming in 2021 (earlier post), and for potential license to other companies.

Argo AI is bringing together some of the most experienced roboticists and engineers working in autonomy from inside and outside of Ford. The team of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence is led by Argo AI founders Bryan Salesky, Argo AI CEO, and Peter Rander, Argo AI COO. Both are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.

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.

—Ford President and CEO Mark Fields

The current team developing Ford’s virtual driver system—the machine-learning software that acts as the brain of autonomous vehicles—will be combined with the robotics talent and expertise of Argo AI. This partnership will work to deliver the virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE level 4 self-driving vehicles.

Issued January 2014, SAE international’s J3016 provides a common taxonomy and definitions for automated driving. It defines more than a dozen key terms, including those italicized above, and provides full descriptions and examples for each level. Source: SAE International. Click to enlarge.

Ford will continue to lead on development of its purpose-built autonomous vehicle hardware platform, as well as on systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management.

Argo AI will join forces with Ford’s autonomous vehicle software development effort to strengthen the commercialization of self-driving vehicles. Argo AI’s agility and Ford’s scale combine the benefits of a technology startup with the experience and discipline of the automaker’s industry-leading autonomous vehicle development program.

We are at an inflection point in using artificial intelligence in a wide range of applications, and the successful deployment of self-driving cars will fundamentally change how people and goods move. 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.

—Bryan Salesky

Also complementing the relationship will be Ford Smart Mobility LLC, which will lead on the commercialization strategy for Ford’s self-driving vehicles. This includes choices for using autonomous vehicles to move goods and people, such as ride sharing, ride hailing or package delivery fleets.

Ford will be the majority stakeholder in Argo AI. 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: Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer; John Casesa, Ford group vice president, Global Strategy; Salesky; Rander; and an independent director.

The $1 billion investment in Argo AI will be made over five years and is consistent with the autonomous vehicle capital allocation plan shared last September as part of Ford Investor Day.

By the end of this year, Argo AI expects to have more than 200 team members, based in the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters and at major sites in Southeastern Michigan and the Bay Area of California.

Argo AI’s initial focus will be to support Ford’s autonomous vehicle development and production. In the future, Argo AI could license its technology to other companies and sectors looking for autonomous capability.


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So Ford paid 1 billion USD for 51% of the stock in a company without a finished product that employs about 100 people working in a rented office probably using rented cloud computing power. That is a lot of money for very little and it shows just how hot the market is for acquiring talent in AI for autonomous driving.

I have said it before and I will say it again that until the old automakers deploy level 5 capable hardware in actual production cars and have an OTA ability to update the software running that hardware they will not be able to complete their objective of making a fully driverless car. Tesla is already doing exactly that and is increasing its fleet of level 5 capable cars with nearly 9,000 new cars per month. Tesla may have finished the first version of their level 5 capable software by the end of 2017 and start uploading that software to Tesla’s 150,000 strong fleet of such cars by the start of 2018.

It will take more months or even years in some countries for Tesla owners to be allowed to not exercise oversight with their level 5 driverless cars. When Tesla get the permission to tell their drivers not to exercise oversight Tesla will also be allowed to start selling cars without any human driver controls to people that does not have a driver license. No steering wheel or pedals. It will save thousands of USD per car made. This is when the BEV revolution starts because this will allow for highly profitable BEV taxi services to take over from much more expensive private ownership of cars that is more expensive because the costly car drives too little in private ownership. In private ownership the car is parked most of the time not making any value whereas a taxi will drive most of the time making money for its owner. It will be a BEV because BEVs cost lees to drive and maintain and they are more durable than gassers.


This concentration of power and money in the hands of a few while at the same time eliminating jobs raises serious issues for society. USA a
Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and the Death of Work and Democracy (2016). David Barnhizer.


This concentration of power and money in the hands of a few while at the same time eliminating jobs raises serious issues for society. USA and Europe are already seeing political upheaval and extremes of a Nationalist reaction both right and left due to this trend in corporatism and automation.
Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and the Death of Work and Democracy (2016). David Barnhizer.

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