Ford Motor Company announced last week it will invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company. The investment enables Ford to combine its autonomous vehicle development efforts with Argo AI’s robotics experience and startup speed on AI software to develop a virtual driver system for Ford’s autonomous vehicle to be available in 2021, the company explains. The technology—potentially—could also be licensed to other companies and sectors looking for autonomous capability in the future.


Founded by former Google and Uber leaders, Argo AI will include roboticists and engineers working inside and outside of Ford. The team of experts in robotics and AI is led by Argo AI founders Bryan Salesky, company CEO, and Peter Rander, company COO. Both are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.


The next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile, and autonomous vehicles will have a “significant impact on society,” says Ford President and CEO Mark Fields.


The current team developing Ford’s virtual driver system—the machine-learning software that acts as the so-called “brain” of autonomous vehicles—will be combined with the team from Argo AI to deliver the virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE level 4 self-driving vehicles. Ford will continue to lead on development of its purpose-built autonomous vehicle hardware platform, as well as on systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management. Argo AI will work with Ford’s autonomous vehicle software development effort to strengthen the commercialization of self-driving vehicles. Fields explains that Argo AI’s agility and Ford’s scale uniquely combine the benefits of a technology startup with the experience and discipline of the automaker’s autonomous vehicle development program.


“We’re at an inflection point in using AI in a wide range of applications, and the successful deployment of self-driving cars will fundamentally change how people and goods move,” says Salesky. “We’re energized by Ford’s commitment and vision for the future of mobility, and believe this partnership will enable self-driving cars to be commercialized and deployed at scale to extend affordable mobility to all.”


Then again, Ford isn’t the only company investing in AI, however. In December, Uber announced plans to buy AI group Geometric Intelligence to form the core of the ride-sharing company’s own AI research center.


“Uber is in the business of using technology to move people and things in the real world,” Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber, wrote in a blog post. “With all of its complexity and uncertainty, negotiating the real world is a high-order intelligence problem. It manifests in myriad ways, from determining an optimal route, to computing when your car or UberEats order will arrive, to matching riders for UberPool. It extends to teaching a self-driven machine to safely and autonomously navigate the world, whether it’s a car on the roads, an aircraft through busy airspace or new types of robotic devices.”


What are your thoughts on the use of AI in autonomous vehicles? Will it be a springboard for use in other industries?