Ford invests $1bn to develop virtual driver system

Ford is investing $1bn over the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup co-founded by former Google and Uber leaders.

Announcing the investment last month, the carmaker said that it would support the development of a virtual driver system for Ford’s fully autonomous vehicle which is planned for launch in 2021. The technology may also be licensed to other companies.

The team currently working on Ford’s virtual driver system – the machine-learning software that acts as the “brain” of autonomous vehicles – will join with the robotics experts at Argo AI.

At the same time, Ford will continue to develop its purpose-built autonomous vehicle hardware platform, as well as systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management.

“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,” commented Ford president and CEO Mark Fields. “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.”

Argo AI’s agility and Ford’s scale combine the benefits of a technology startup with the experience and discipline of the carmaker’s “industry-leading” autonomous vehicle development programme, Ford said.

Bryan Salesky, a former director of hardware development for Google’s self-driving car project, is chief executive of Argo AI.

“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,” Salesky said. “We are energised by Ford’s commitment and vision for the future of mobility, and we believe this partnership will enable self-driving cars to be commercialised and deployed at scale to extend affordable mobility to all.”

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