Ford self-driving partner Argo AI begins testing in Detroit

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
The new Ford Fusion Hybrid is a third-generation test vehicle that Argo AI is now deploying in collaboration with Ford in all five major cities of operation: Pittsburgh, Palo Alto, Miami, Washington and Detroit.

Detroit — Ford Motor Co.'s self-driving car partner Argo AI has started testing the newest version of its autonomous test vehicles in the Motor City.

Argo's third-generation test car is still a Ford Fusion Hybrid, with updated technology including an upgraded sensor suite, a new computing system and more-robust redundancies in the braking and steering systems that help maintain control of the vehicle in the event of a technical failure.

With the addition of Detroit, Argo is now testing in five major U.S. cities. The others are Pittsburgh, Palo Alto, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Ford and Argo's Miami test fleet is also testing potential autonomous vehicle business models — research that will help when Ford plans to launch self-driving service in multiple cities in 2021. Ford plans to spend $4 billion over the next few years to build those vehicles and the business model that will run them.

Some of Argo's Detroit testing is concentrated in Corktown near Michigan Central Station, which Ford bought last year with the intention of transforming the previously abandoned symbol of Detroit's decline into a hub for autonomy, electrification and mobility ventures.

"Riding through the historic Corktown neighborhood and passing Michigan Central Station on our way downtown, I couldn’t help but be struck by this milestone," Argo President Peter Rander said in a Wednesday blog post. "A new form of transportation striving to emerge in a city that’s also in the midst of its own stunning transformation."

Rander says Detroit poses new and important challenges for Argo's autonomous test fleet, ranging from wide roads with unmarked lanes to narrow residential streets with cars parked on either curb.

"Bringing these vehicles to Detroit gives us the opportunity to learn how they operate in yet another environment," he said. "One where we have engineering operations in close proximity and where Corktown serves as Ford’s base for self-driving business development."

Ford's business teams for autonomous technology and electrification are already operating out of a building in Corktown previously known as The Factory. 

As Argo expands its testing efforts into Detroit, the autonomous vehicle development company is expected to continue to grow; Bloomberg reports Argo is nearing a deal with Ford partner Volkswagen AG.

Ford and VW announced in January they had agreed to terms for a commercial-vehicle partnership outside of the United States. Since then the parties have continued negotiations on a partnership for electric and self-driving vehicles. Argo is part of those discussions, a person familiar with the talks told The Detroit News.

Twitter: @NoraNaughton