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Ford to invest $1B in Pittsburgh firm to develop self-driving cars

Bob Bauder
| Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, 4:00 p.m.
Ford Motor will spend $1 billion to take over a robotics startup to acquire more of the expertise needed to reach its ambitious goal of having a fully driverless vehicle on the road by 2021. The big bet announced Friday, Feb. 10, 2017,  comes just a few months after the Pittsburgh startup, Argo AI, was created by two alumni of Carnegie Mellon UniversityÕs robotics program, Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander.
Ford Motor will spend $1 billion to take over a robotics startup to acquire more of the expertise needed to reach its ambitious goal of having a fully driverless vehicle on the road by 2021. The big bet announced Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, comes just a few months after the Pittsburgh startup, Argo AI, was created by two alumni of Carnegie Mellon UniversityÕs robotics program, Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander.

Pittsburgh will become an engineering and test center for autonomous vehicles built by Ford Motor Co., which announced Friday it intends to invest $1 billion over five years in a city-based company specializing in artificial intelligence, officials said.

Raj Nair, Ford's chief technology officer, told the Tribune-Review that the company chose Argo AI because of a previous relationship with founders Bryan Salesky, the company CEO, and Peter Rander, company COO, and because of engineering talent produced by city universities.

Salesky and Rander are alumni of the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center, which has been a global leader in autonomous vehicle research, and are former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.

“This is very much an engineering problem that requires a tremendous amount of engineering talent,” Nair said. “It's an aspect of where we're going where the talent is.”

Salesky said Argo AI will engineer and test self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. The company has yet to pick a location for its headquarters. Ford intends to develop autonomous vehicles by 2021.

“It's an engineering and test center,” he said, adding that Pittsburgh is well-suited for testing because of its challenging topography and irregular street grid. “It's where Pete and I will be based, and we'll be employing a number of engineers and scientists from the region.”

The company intends to add 200 high-tech jobs by the end of the year in Pittsburgh, Michigan and California, he said, but declined to specify how many might be in Pittsburgh.

Uber already is testing autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh. The company's Advanced Technology Center has filled four buildings in the Strip District and a testing facility at the Almono development in Hazelwood. And while Uber won't disclose how many employees are working on self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Mayor Bill Peduto has said the company has 500 employees here.

Argo intends to develop and use latest advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision to help build safe and efficient vehicles.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Ford's investment could translate into more than 1,000 jobs as Argo's research progresses.

“They're starting out with 200 jobs initially, but over the next five years as this builds up we really could be talking about thousands,” he said.

Fitzgerald predicted that Pittsburgh would continue to experience growth in the high-tech area because of its universities and hospitals.

“None of this anymore is a big surprise,” he said. “Pittsburgh is a magnet for companies that are partnering with our university talent.”

Salesky, a 20-year city resident, said Pittsburgh is in the midst of a high-tech renaissance.

“That renaissance is really being fueled by technology and development coming out of the universities,” he said.

Peduto also lauded the universities for changing Pittsburgh's economy.

“Pittsburgh continues to make global headlines on this growing industry, which stems from the hard work and brainpower of our friends at Carnegie Mellon and the many industries they continue to seed and grow throughout our region,” he said in a statement.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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