In an effort to meet its goal of having a fully-autonomous SAE Level 4-capable vehicle on the road by 2021, Ford Motor Company will invest $1 billion over the course of the next five years to become the majority stakeholder in the artificial intelligence company Argo AI. Argo AI will be charged with developing a virtual driver system for Ford’s autonomous vehicles and perhaps licensing the software to other automakers.

Argo AI was founded by Bryan Salesky who serves as its CEO and Peter Rander who holds down the COO spot. Both graduated from Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and were former leaders on the self-driving car teams at Google and Uber, respectively. To get the Ford program up to speed, the two will assemble more than 200 tech experts by the end of the year based at the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters, Southeastern Michigan and the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Collaborating with the automaker’s existing autonomous vehicle software group, Ford says this collective operation will be able to leverage the start-up-style agility of Argo AI with the experience, discipline and scale of its industry-leading autonomous vehicle development program. Ford will continue to take the lead role in development of its purpose-built autonomous hardware platform including systems integration, manufacturing and design along with regulatory policy management. Rounding out the mix will be Ford Smart Mobility LLC, which is being tasked with developing a viable commercialization strategy for the firm’s upcoming autonomous vehicles, from private ownership to ride sharing to delivery services.

Competitive advantage cited

“Working together with Argo AI gives Ford a distinct competitive advantage at the intersection of the automotive and technology industries,” noted Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer. “This open collaboration is unlike any other partnership – allowing us to benefit from combining the speed of a startup with Ford’s strengths in scaling technology, systems integration and vehicle design.”

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“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,” said Ford President and CEO Mark Fields when the deal was announced. “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.”

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