Ford drops a cool $1 billion on AI firm

Ford has upped the stakes in the race towards autonomous vehicles with a $1 billion investment in AI and robotics firm Argo AI.

Jamie Davies

February 13, 2017

3 Min Read
Ford drops a cool $1 billion on AI firm

Ford has upped the stakes in the race towards autonomous vehicles with a $1 billion investment in AI and robotics firm Argo AI.

The investment will take place over the next five years, and will give the car giant a majority holding in the business. Argo AI will assist in developing a virtual driver system as Ford moves towards its ambitions of fully autonomous vehicles by 2021, an innovation which the team also hopes to monetize through software licensing agreements also.

The cash injection represents one of the largest from the automotive sector in autonomous vehicles, though the Ford team has claimed Argo AI will still operate with independence. It is believed one of the reasons Ford will not own Argo AI outright is to enable the management team to attract new talent with the promise of equity in the organization.

“The next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile, and autonomous driving will have as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” said Ford CEO Mark Fields.

“As Ford expands to be an auto and mobility company, we believe that investing in Argo AI will create significant value for our shareholders by strengthening Ford’s leadership in bringing self-driving vehicles to the market in the near term future and by creating technology which can be licensed by others in the future.”

Argo AI itself was founded by Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander, both of whom are heavy hitters in the autonomous vehicles ball park. Salesky previously headed up the hardware team at Google’s self-driving initiative, while Rander was one of the more senior engineers at Uber until as recently as September 2016.

Ford’s ambitions in the self-driving segment are focused rather heavily around its ride-sharing fleet. Ride-sharing as a service is an idea which is holding a lot of weight at Ford, and has already taken up a hefty amount of time and money from the team. Last September, Ford announced it was investing or collaborating with four specialist start-ups in the area, while also doubling the size of its team in Silicon Valley.

A level up from the ride-sharing plans, Ford has been making efforts to redefine the image and operations of the company. ‘Every company is a software company’ is an overused phrase, but it is one which Ford has taken to heart. The company has been billing itself as an Auto and Mobility brand, driving more towards the software and services market as well as traditional automotive operations.

While it is hardly unusual for a car brand to be investing in autonomous vehicles, this is one of the more substantial investments to date, and could see Ford steal a march on the lucrative segment.

Daily Poll

What would you consider the biggest roadblock for autonomous vehicles?

  • Making sure AI is good enough (24%, 14 Votes)

  • Consumer acceptance (22%, 13 Votes)

  • Regulatory approval (22%, 13 Votes)

  • Cyber security (12%, 7 Votes)

  • Developing the ecosystem (8%, 5 Votes)

  • Making autonomous vehicles price competitive (5%, 3 Votes)

  • Network performance and connectivity (5%, 3 Votes)

  • Political issues such as job redundancies (2%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 60

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