Ford Motor Co. is investing $1 billion over the next five years in artificial intelligence startup Argo AI to help build the brains of its robot cars.
The Pittsburgh company, founded last year, specializes in robotics and virtual driver systems. It will compliment Ford’s autonomous vehicle team that’s preparing to market a fully self-driving car in 2021.
Argo was founded by Bryan Salesky, formerly of Google, and Peter Rander, formerly of Uber. Both are alumni of the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and left their respective companies late last year to form Argo AI.
“When talent like that comes up, you don’t ignore that availability,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s product chief and chief technical officer. “This really increases the robustness of our ability to deliver this vehicle in 2021.”
As part of the investment, Ford will become a majority stakeholder in Argo. Nair and John Casesa, Ford’s group vice president of global strategy, will sit on Argo’s five-person board.
By the end of this year, Argo will have offices in southeastern Michigan and California, according to Ford, along with its Pittsburgh headquarters. It will employ more than 200 workers at the three sites. A yet-to-be-determined amount of Ford employees will transition to working for Argo, executives said.
Ford says the software it develops with Argo could potentially be licensed to other companies. During a conference call with analysts and reporters on Friday, CEO Mark Fields noted the investment could also include an IPO.
“There’s potential to create significant value in the company,” Fields said.
The investment in Argo is the latest in a string of moves by Ford to offer transportation alternatives to the traditional car and truck -- a mainstay of the company since its founding.
Last March, the automaker created a Smart Mobility subsidiary to invest in emerging mobility opportunities as it targets more services outside traditional car and truck ownership.
Later in 2016 the subsidiary purchased Chariot, a San Francisco-based on-demand shuttle service that has since expanded to Austin, Texas. Ford recently said Chariot would expand to eight cities by the end of 2017, including a city outside the U.S.
Ford has also invested in LiDAR-maker Velodyne; 3D-maps-maker Civil Maps; machine vision company Nirenberg Neuroscience and computer vision and machine learning company SAIPS.