When Bryan Salesky was in charge of hardware development for Google's self-driving car project, he quickly grasped not just the value, but the necessity of close collaboration with automakers.
"I certainly gained in my appreciation for why timelines are long on the hardware side, gained in my appreciation for the difficulties on setting up new manufacturing and building parts that are cost-effective," he told Automotive News.
Those lessons were foremost in mind when he co-founded Argo AI in 2016, and now they're paying off.
Argo AI received a $2.6 billion investment from Volkswagen Group last week in a blockbuster deal that gives the Pittsburgh company the potential to scale its self-driving systems on at least two continents across a variety of vehicle platforms and uses.
The company had received a $1 billion commitment from Ford Motor Co. If it wasn't already considered one of the front-runners in the global push to develop autonomous driving technology, it is now.
"For us, this is a huge boost for our team, and it cements us as a self-driving platform that can reach globally," Salesky, Argo's CEO, said. "Two of the largest automakers aligning around our technology is a really big deal."
Waymo, the commercial-minded descendant of Google's self-driving car project, in June announced an agreement to explore the use of its self-driving technology with Renault-Nissan in Japan and France. Honda in October announced a $2.7 billion investment over 10 years in General Motors' Cruise subsidiary.
Now investment from the world's largest automaker provides the potential for Argo to scale at a global level.
"The fact that Volkswagen has been at it long enough, since the days of the DARPA challenges, when they supported a Stanford team, I think they probably have a pretty good idea of what they're looking for," said Sam Abuelsamid, a principal research analyst at Navigant Research. "The fact they opted to go with Argo and use that technology really validates what Argo is doing and how they're doing it."
With the Volkswagen investment, Argo AI is valued at $7 billion, the companies said last week.