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Robotaxi start-up Argo AI: will VW join the group after Ford?

VW, Ford and Argo AI
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D he rise of Argo AI is amazing even in times of the rapidly changing New Economy. When the company was founded in November 2016 in the steel city of Pittsburgh, it only had three employees. Well, not even three years later, there are 300. Argo AI has received billions in investments from the auto industry and is now buying companies itself. And it is about to become a central component of the upcoming cooperation between the car giants Ford and Volkswagen on the future topic of self-driving cars.

Competence in artificial intelligence and robotics

Because that is exactly what it is the theme of Argo AI. As the company name makes clear, the startup is primarily about artificial intelligence, but also about robotics. Both are brought together in self-driving cars, and it helps when a car manufacturer can have the necessary technology and knowledge from a single source. Argo AI can offer even more: In the fall of 2017, the company acquired Princeton Lightwave, a lidar specialist, and it works with numerous universities to benefit from their research.

The overall package now seems so valuable to be that, according to media reports, Volkswagen would like to participate in Argo AI as part of its cooperation with Ford. In this context, a company valuation of four billion euros was discussed, reports the Bloomberg news agency. At the end of February 2019, it was said that Volkswagen wanted to invest 600 million US dollars (a good 530 million euros) directly in Argo AI and provide 1.1 billion dollars (980 million euros) as working capital. The aim is for both partners to hold equal shares in Argo AI. Ford currently owns the majority of the company.

Ford-Werke GmbH
The test cars from Argo AI driveamong others in Washington, D.C. around.

More than 100 test vehicles in 5 US cities

In fact, Argo AI already seems far in its work to have progressed. The company is currently testing its autonomous fleet of around 100 vehicles in Pittsburgh, Palo Alto, Miami, Washington, D.C. and Detroit. The test vehicles are in their third generation in the five cities. The Ford Fusion Hybrid equipped with Argo technology (the model is the US equivalent of the Mondeo) are equipped with the latest sensor unit, the most modern radar systems and high-resolution cameras. The on-board computer system has also been improved; it can now process more information, but at the same time works more quietly and emits less heat. In an emergency, there are also additional safety redundancies for steering and brakes, if one of the systems does not do what it should.

In addition, Argo AI has a wealth of data: It is called Argoverse and includes, among other things, high-resolution maps which are a basic requirement for self-driving cars to move safely in their surroundings. How essential such maps are became apparent at the end of 2015, when Audi, BMW and Daimler jointly took over the map service Here from Nokia for 2.8 billion euros. Since then, other well-known companies, including Tencent, Intel, Bosch and Continental, have joined this card alliance. Argo AI recently announced that it would be sharing its data with research communities, but that's limited to colleges. For Ford and VW it is certainly very interesting to gain sovereignty over the commercial use of Argoverse data through a stake in Argo AI.

An important part of Ford Autonomous Vehicles

Own cars According to its own statements, Argo AI does not want to build, but only to supply the self-driving technologies. In 2021, the first completely autonomous robot taxi with software and robot technology from Argo is to be presented. You can now bet on whether it will roll onto the streets in a Ford or VW shell.

Maybe Ford will get the first access right due to the longer common history. In 2017, the US manufacturer secured a majority in Argo AI for a billion dollars. A major milestone in the group's realignment on the subject of self-driving cars, which has since been completed. It was not until autumn that the Ford Motor Company founded a subsidiary called Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC (Limited Liability Company, a company with limited liability, similar to the GmbH we know). By the year 2023, Ford plans to invest a total of four billion US dollars in the development of self-driving cars - according to the status at the time. To what extent this strategy will survive, should Ford and VW actually enter into a close cooperation, must of course first be shown.


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