Detroit, Silicon Valley Collaborate on Path to Self-Driving Cars

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budget for technological advancements to increase in 2017. These executives also said the top three barriers to technological advancement and digitization were cost, uncertainty about which technology supplier has the best solution, and reluctant employees.

“We’re hosting a series of ‘tech takeover’ events to educate manufacturers about all these technologies that are changing the way they do business,” Kelly says. “When I talk to manufacturers, they know it’s coming and they understand how computerization has changed the front office, but they don’t know what to focus on, how to deploy capital, and what to bet on. It’s tough.”

Kelly says the goal of the tech takeover events is to get Michigan’s technology and manufacturing industries together so they can work through challenges and remain at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development.

Ford seems to share Kelly’s view on collaboration between Detroit and Silicon Valley, as evidenced by the Argo AI investment. Argo is based in Pittsburgh, PA, and it also has engineers in Southeast Michigan and the Bay Area. The company will be responsible for developing the virtual driver system, including perception, path-planning, and decision-making software, says Ford spokesman Alan Hall.

Ford, whose engineers will work side-by-side with Argo’s, will lead the development of autonomous hardware—the actual vehicle—intended for use in mobility services, such as ride-sharing or package delivery, Hall adds. Ford will also take the lead on systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management. The collaboration is in support of Ford’s goal to have “fully autonomous vehicles for commercial applications” by 2021.

What makes this arrangement especially innovative is the sovereignty Argo will retain despite the hyper-competitive landscape of the auto industry. Argo will still be able to potentially license its technology to manufacturers in other sectors, and its employees have the option of receiving equity in Argo as part of their salary and benefits package—the norm for tech startups, but less common in the automotive world.

“Argo allows Ford to really move at the speed of a startup,” Hall says. “Because Argo is able to operate like a startup, it’ll be able to recruit aggressively for the type of talent needed, and they’ll be able to offer competitive salaries and equity opportunities.”

Argo was founded by CEO Bryan Salesky and chief operating officer Peter Rander. The pair are alumni of Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center and formerly led the self-driving car teams at Google and Uber, respectively. Hall says Ford already has 30 fully autonomous test vehicles on the road in Michigan, California, and Arizona.

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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