An inside look at Ford’s $1 billion bet on Argo AI
In the race to launch autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence expertise is the prize
Somewhere between the 14th and 15th floors in a concrete stairwell, Bryan Salesky pauses, searching for the right words to explain his mission for the foreseeable future. He wants to give cars the eyes, ears, and brains they need to operate without humans. And he wants to do it for Ford Motor Company by 2021.
The CEO of Argo AI — a startup that appeared seemingly out of nowhere six months ago, with $1 billion in backing from Ford — is hardly alone in the pursuit to transform the automobile into a vehicle controlled by artificial intelligence. Though a fire alarm interrupted an interview in a San Francisco conference room, Salesky stays focused and collected. And if he is feeling the pressure to develop and deliver this system so Ford — its sole customer, backer, and majority shareholder — can deploy fully autonomous vehicles in just four years’ time, it doesn’t show.
Instead, he comes off as optimistic about the company he founded with Peter Rander, who, as former engineering lead at the Uber Advanced Technologies Group, helped bring the ride-hail company’s first-generation self-driving prototypes to public roads.
Yet, Argo stands out from the hundreds of companies pursuing self-driving technology due to its unique deal with Ford that has invested big in this little-known startup that is now primed to compete with Google’s Waymo, Uber, GM’s Cruise Automation, Tesla, and Aurora — a short list of heavyweights all working on a so-called “full stack solution” of self-driving cars.
Argo was literally yanked out of obscurity by the Ford deal, but there are dozens (if not more) AI / auto startups still wallowing in obscurity. “Artificial intelligence will be an essential player in autonomous vehicles of the future,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with Cox Automotive’s Autotrader. “That’s why automakers like General Motors, Toyota, and Ford are snapping up companies with AI expertise.”
Argo won the lottery, essentially. (Its website is still laughably sparse.) What remains to be seen is if Ford made a wise roll of the dice. Much of exactly what Argo is doing remains unknown.
In broad terms, Argo is developing self-driving technology that Ford can use to deploy fully autonomous Level 4-capable vehicles for commercial on-demand service. In other words: something like a self-driving taxi service. Level 4 is a designation by SAE International that means the car takes over all of the driving in certain conditions....MUCH MORE