Ford is investing $1 billion in an artificial intelligence (AI) start-up, Argo AI, to assist with the development of its autonomous vehicle technology.
According to Computerworld, the automotive giant will pump investment into Argo AI over the next five years, and will combine its own autonomous vehicle program with Argo AI’s robotics and ‘start-up speed’ on AI software.
Argo AI roboticists and engineers will develop the new software platform for Ford’s autonomous vehicle – expected to launch in 2021 – but the software could also be licensed to other car manufacturers.
Virtual driver system
Ford announced its ambition to develop a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021 late last year, with plans to start European testing in 2017.
The company has also announced that it will integrate Amazon’s Alexa AI assistant to give users access to new features such as accessing their car from their home.
This partnership with Argo AI, however, will focus more specifically on develop a virtual driver system for its SAE level 4 self-driving vehicles.
It’s an indication that AI is becoming increasingly essential to the development of autonomous vehicles. The space is now becoming increasingly competitive as Volkswagen, Hyundai and others invest in the technology for their own programs.
Related: Will in-car AI systems like Amazon’s Alexa revolutionize motoring?
Challenges during development
According to Michael Ramsey, a research director at Gartner, the move is also a sign that Ford needs leadership and the ability to attract and retain more talent in its autonomous vehicle team.
He sees the company’s investment in Argo AI as a move to tackle this challenge.
The start-up will be allowed to operate with “substantial independence” to deliver the new platform, Ramsey suggests, and may be “able to ramp up the talent.”
Related: Amazon Alexa comes to cars courtesy of new Logitech Car Assistant app
Ford: the ‘auto and mobility company’
Becoming a majority stakeholder in Argo AI is the latest move by Ford to become more than just a car manufacturer, though.
The firm recently made a joint investment with Chinese company Baidu in Velodyne, a company that uses LiDAR to accurately detect objects around a car, and Civil Maps, a digital mapping company, among other investments.
“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,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said in a statement.
“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.”
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AI essential for fully autonomous vehicles?
Internet of Business spoke to the Transport Research Laboratory’s academy director, Nick Reed, about why AI is important for the advancement of autonomous vehicles.
“The key aspect to consider with AI is that driving is infinitely variable – you never know what combination of pedestrians, traffic and weather you might encounter,” Reed said.
“Because of this, it is practically impossible to apply rule-based logic to typical road driving – there are just too many unforeseeable situations for a rigid set of rules to work effectively. You need the vehicle to have sufficient learned capabilities to know how to handle unexpected situations.
“It is possible to achieve this with the use of AI. However, it needs to be trained on masses of data to enable [it] to learn how it should react to ensure the vehicle makes safe progress in the widest range of potential situations that it might encounter. This is a key challenge for the industry at the moment.”