Research: Ford to invest $1 billion in artificial intelligence start-up

Venture will employ leading engineers and ‘roboticists’ to develop virtual driver system

APP February 11, 2017
Ford's decision to cancel plans to build a new factory in Mexico was widely interpreted in Mexico as the result of Donald Trump's repeated criticism of the $1.6bn project. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK: Ford will invest $1 billion over five years in an artificial intelligence start-up with the aim of developing an autonomous vehicle by 2021, the auto giant said Friday.

Ford will take a majority stake in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company based in Pittsburgh, started in late 2016 by former Google and Uber employees who had worked on autonomous driving.

The venture will employ leading engineers and “roboticists” to develop a “virtual driver” system, described by Ford officials as the “brain” of an autonomous vehicle.

The set-up is intended to give Ford a head start on competitors in the race to commercialise autonomous vehicles, said Ford executive vice president Raj Nair.

“This is really unique in the industry,” Nair said on a conference call with analysts.

It will have the “speed and nimbleness of a start-up, but also integrated into a full production development team.”

Nair said research towards full autonomy has moved “beyond the research phase,” but there remains the need for a “tremendous leap” between the driver-assist technologies now available and full autonomy.

Argo AI employees will have a minority equity stake in the venture. The structure is intended to lure top engineers to the venture, Ford executives said.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2017.

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