Strikes unusual deal with driverless auto start-up Argo AI

The race for autonomous cars is starting to heat up after Ford announced they will be investing a billion dollars over the next five years into Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company. Going forward, the startup will work to develop a new software platform for Ford's fully autonomous vehicle, which is expected to arrive in 2021.

Salesky formerly worked on self-driving cars at a high-profile project within Google - now known as Waymo - and Rander did the same kind of engineering at ride-hailing service Uber before the two men teamed up to launch Argo late previous year. Founders Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander are former leaders of the self-driving auto teams at Uber Technologies Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google. Argo had been considering whether to raise money from venture capitalists, the conventional fundraising channel for startups, before opting to become an independent subsidiary of Ford instead.

The founders of Argo, however, will continue to hold significant stakes in the company, and the subsidiary will offer equity as compensation to attract top engineering talent in an emerging area where experienced professionals are hard to come by.

Ultimately this investment stems from Ford's previous $4.5 billion investment in electrified vehicle production and its push to morph into both a next-generation automaker and a high-tech mobility company.

Salesky, Argo's CEO, formerly served as director of hardware development for self-driving cars at Google.

While they declined to say how many employees Argo AI has today - Nair called it "very fluid" but said "it's certainly more than Bryan and Peter" - the company aims to have a total of 200 employees by the end of the year, including some number of Ford engineers that would shift to Argo AI's payroll. "We want to make 2021 a reality".

In return for its funding, Argo will design its driverless system exclusively for Ford and then have a chance to license the technology to other automakers in the future.

"We are energized by Ford's commitment and vision for the future of mobility, and we believe this partnership will enable self-driving cars to be commercialized and deployed at scale to extend affordable mobility to all", Salesky said in a statement.

"I never heard of Argo AI until 10 minutes ago", Eric Paul Dennis, a transportation analyst for the Center for Automotive Research, said by phone shortly after Ford's announcement.

  • Joanne Flowers