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Ford invests $1B in Argo AI to spearhead self-driving technology

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Ford announced that it is making an investment of $1 billion for next 5 years in artificial intelligence Company, named Argo AI. "The next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile", Ford CEO Mark Fields said in a statement, per Ars Technica, predicting that self-driving technology will change the world as much as the Ford assembly line did a century ago.

Salesky, who said he spoke with a number of partners, said he liked Ford's approach to self-driving cars better than other potential partners. In 2016, Ford had joined forces with the Chinese search giant Baidu to invest over $150 million in Velodyne, a firm that builds LIDAR sensors for autonomous cars and produce them at a cheaper rate.

Salesky and Rander, as well as other Argo AI executives, have worked on robotics and AI at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which helps explain the placement of the startup's headquarters.

With this investment, the automaker will also become the largest shareholder in Argo AI.

Argo, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh but has offices in both MI and California, hopes to expand its team to have more than 200 employees by the end of the year. Ford also noted that the technology developed by Argo AI could eventually be licensed out.

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Bryan Salesky, chief executive of Argo, spent three years leading hardware development for self-driving cars at Google.

Giving those workers a piece of the company as a sweetener is seen as critical to attracting and retaining talent in the competition between traditional automakers and Silicon Valley to develop cars of the future.

Salesky declined to say how many employees the startup has, but said that it wants to hire 200 workers. Salesky formerly worked on Google's self-driving auto team, and Rander did the same for Uber.

"That virtual driver system, that brain, needs a platform to power, and that's where our expertise in building cars comes in", Nair said. Ford's focus is on not only developing reliable self-driving technology, but also on making that technology commercially viable for mass-produced cars.

"This open collaboration is unlike any other partnership - allowing us to benefit from combining the speed of a startup with Ford's strengths in scaling technology, systems integration and vehicle design". This includes choices for using autonomous vehicles to move goods and people, such as ride sharing, ride hailing or package delivery fleets.

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