Ford bets big on artificial intelligence
US carmaker Ford is to invest $1 billion (P 49 billion) over the next five years in an AI startup with the aim of fast-tracking its autonomous vehicle plans.
Ford wants a virtual driver system for an autonomous vehicle scheduled to meet the public in 2021 and so has decided to enlist the skills of Pittsburgh-based Argo AI, a start-up with fewer than 200 employees but one set up by Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander who formerly led Google and Uber self-driving car project teams respectively.
“The next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile, and autonomous vehicles will have as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” said Ford President and CEO Mark Fields.
The plan is to combine both companies’ expertise to develop hardware and software together and is the latest example of a traditional automaker looking to a potentially disruptive tech startup and particularly to an AI company, in order to fast track autonomous driving technology.
“We are at an inflection point in using artificial intelligence in a wide range of applications, and the successful deployment of self-driving cars will fundamentally change how people and goods move,” said Salesky. “We believe this partnership will enable self-driving cars to be commercialized and deployed at scale to extend affordable mobility to all.”
Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and Audi are all investing heavily in artificial intelligence with the ultimate aim of educating the next generation of cars on the finer points of driving and giving them the digital capabilities to learn from mistakes or past experiences in order to make the right decision on the road.
For example, at the 2017 CES, Audi demonstrated a car that could explore and learn its surroundings in order to autonomously locate and park in an available parking bay.
Some of this machine learning will reduce reliance on some of the costlier sensing systems that could initially price many out of the self-driving car market. And if no one can afford an autonomous car, none of the wider benefits — fewer accidents, less pollution, lower congestion — will be realized.
“As Ford expands to be an auto and a 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 market in the near term and by creating technology that could be licensed to others in the future,” said Fields.
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