Sky’s the limit optimism about self-driving cars raising tougher questions on how expensive automotive artificial intelligence will ever make a profit.
Those are questions the founders of Argo AI – and auto manufacturer partners Ford Motor and Volkswagen AG – are betting they can answer by taking a different road than more highly valued competitors. They’re driving away from building a robotaxi line and focusing instead on getting paid by the mile by clients that will use robot automobiles for multiple purposes, including delivering items or transporting people in vans.
The self-driving systems developer led by Bryan Salesky, who got his start developing automated automobiles for a Defense Department-sponsored competition over a decade ago, is on the center of a multibillion-greenback bet by its giant auto associates that autonomous car expertise must be good for more than replacing taxi drivers.
The Argo business plan hinges on a unique revenue-sharing agreement that may pay Argo fees based on miles traveled in self-driving Ford and VW autos equipped with Argo’s technology. Details of that arrangement haven’t previously been reported.
Argo’s financial structure is also different from competitor autonomous car ventures. Both Ford and VW own just under 40%, with Argo’s management staff holding over 20%, according to sources familiar with the business. Details of the ownership structure further haven’t previously been reported.
Among the prospective commercial applications of Argo’s technology: Long-haul trucking, e-commerce deliveries, the transport of people along mounted routes in cities, and off-highway functions, including mining.
Started in Pittsburgh in late 2016 by Michigan residents Salesky and Chief Operating Officer Peter Rander, Argo is stationed in a nondescript building in The Strip, an old market hub overlooking the Allegheny River.