The automaker will take a majority stake in Argo AI, founded by two top engineers from Google and Uber.
Ford has made Detroit’s biggest investment yet in self-driving technology, acquiring a majority stake in artificial intelligence startup Argo AI for $1 billion, the company announced on Friday.
Argo AI was founded by two top engineers from Google and Uber who were both previously at Carnegie Mellon’s robotics institute. The startup plans to use its expertise in AI to develop software for self-driving vehicles.
Bryan Salesky, the CEO of Argo AI, was the head of hardware at Alphabet’s car division, Waymo, for the past three years. Peter Rander, Argo’s COO, left Uber in September, where he was one of the top engineers for its self-driving division.
This is the largest investment a traditional auto manufacturer has made in self-driving technology. General Motors acquired self-driving startup Cruise for $1 billion last year, and Uber bought autonomous trucking company Otto for $680 million, also last year.
Ford will dole out the $1 billion over a five year schedule but will immediately become the majority shareholder. The company declined to disclose its specific stake, but the investment would value Argo at over $1 billion.
Ford says Argo will remain headquartered in Pittsburgh and operate with substantial independence. Both Ford and Argo elect two board seats, with a fifth independent position. Ford plans to install Raj Nair, head of research and development, and Vice President John Casea to the board.
This is the most Ford has spent on autonomous technology. In 2016, the automaker acquired on-demand shuttle service Chariot for far below $1 billion and invested in Velodyne, a maker of Lidar technology. Ford says it plans to market fully self-driving cars by 2021.
While Ford will effectively own Argo, the AI developer plans to eventually license its software and sensor suite to other companies.