Ford Bets $1 Billion on Self-driving Car Startup in Pennsylvania

L-R: Peter Rander, Argo AI COO; Ken Washington, Ford vice president of research and advanced engineering; Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO; Bryan Salesky, Argo AI CEO; Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, product development, and chief technical officer; and Laura Merling, Ford Smart Mobility LLC vice president of autonomous vehicle solutions. Salesky and Rander are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.

Ford Motor is betting $1 billion on the world’s self-driving car future.

The Detroit automaker announced Friday that it would allocate that sum over five years to a new autonomous car startup called Argo AI, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa., and will have offices in Michigan and California.

Ford’s financial outlay is part of a continuing investment strategy anchored to transforming the car and truck seller into a mobility company with a hand in ride-hailing, ride-sharing and even bicycle rentals.

Argo AI was cofounded a few months ago by Google car project veteran Bryan Salesky and Uber engineer Peter Rander, who met while working at Carnegie Mellon University’s vaunted robotics and engineering school.

“The reason for the investment is not only to drive the delivery of our own autonomous vehicle by 2021, but also to deliver value to our shareholders by creating a software platform that can be licensed to others,” Ford CEO Mark Fields told USA TODAY. “This move gets us the agility and speed of a startup combined with Ford’s global scale.”

Salesky, a self-driving car hardware specialist who left Google’s renamed Waymo car program last fall, said that he decided to start his own company with Rander because of “the incredible advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer vision, but we just needed a partner to get these cars into the hands of millions of people.”

Ford’s early stage investment in Argo AI reflects a growing desire on the part of automakers and tech companies to combine forces to tackle the still daunting task of making autonomous driving an everyday reality.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Marco della Cava