DETROIT -- As Ford Motor Co. bears down on a self-imposed deadline to field robotaxis and driverless delivery vehicles in two years, the automaker has acquired a small defense contractor whose experience could help get auto-piloted cars on the road.
This month, Ford paid an undisclosed sum to acquire Quantum Signal AI, a 40-member team of roboticists operating out of a decommissioned 1930s-era high school in Saline, Mich., just up the road from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The 20-year-old firm has experience working with the U.S. military on sniper simulations and remote-controlled sentinel robots.
Ford sees those skills as a perfect fit for the unpredictable and often chaotic world its autonomous vehicles will need to navigate with its promised self-driving business in multiple U.S. cities. It’s hoping Quantum Signal will help it avoid potholes that have delayed a robotaxi service by General Motors' Cruise unit and limited the range of Google affiliate Waymo’s autonomous ride-hailing operations.
“The number one priority is 2021, it’s all about getting that done,” Randy Visintainer, chief technology officer of Ford’s autonomous vehicle unit, said in an interview. “When we first set that target, we knew this was a very, very hard problem and we weren’t going to be able to do it alone.”
Quantum’s simulation and robotics experts will join forces with Argo AI, Ford’s self-driving partner, and Ford’s own researchers, Visintainer said.