Ford partner buys company to aid autonomous development

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Argo AI, the company Ford Motor Co. partnered with to build the virtual driver systems for its autonomous vehicles, on Friday acquired a company to speed up development of those machines.

Pittsburgh-based Argo closed on the deal to acquire LiDAR company Princeton Lightwave one day after Ford announced a $1.6-billion third quarter profit driven largely by North American truck sales and cost cuts to its traditional business.

Ford in February announced a five-year, $1-billion partnership with Argo. The company would take Ford’s autonomous research and develop the software to pilot Ford’s production autonomous vehicles. Friday’s acquisition adds a hardware component to Argo.

“We can’t talk about a future of self-driving cars without mentioning LiDAR technology – and we won’t be able to build that future without it,” Bryan Salesky, Argo AI CEO, wrote in a blog post. “These sensors are crucial to creating a three-dimensional view of the world that helps autonomous vehicles find where they are on the road and detect other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.”

LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, bounces lasers off surroundings so the autonomous vehicle can see what is around it. It’s typically one component of a suite of sensors on an autonomous vehicle, and it’s sometimes the primary driver in those vision systems.

Argo AI did not disclose how much the acquisition cost. Salesky said Princeton Lightwave’s technology will help Argo boost the virtual driver system in how it handles object detection in poor weather conditions and at high speeds. He also hopes the acquisition will help Argo improve the range and field of view for LiDAR, and also help lower costs so that the systems can be mass produced at a lower cost once these vehicles launch.

Argo will have more than 30 autonomous vehicles testing on the road in Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Pittsburgh by the end of the year. Those vehicles, developed less than a year after Ford partnered with Argo, will fine-tune Argo’s virtual-driver system using Ford Fusions outfitted with the automaker’s suite of cameras, sensors, radar and lidar (light detection and ranging). They will have someone in the driver’s seat monitoring the system.

Ford aims to bring an autonomous vehicle to market by 2021.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau