The fulfillment of Pittsburgh’s promise of an autonomous vehicle boom might be just around the corner.
Argo AI, a well-established Pittsburgh-based autonomous vehicle company, announced Wednesday that it plans to put its cars on the road by the end 0f 2021. Through partnerships with car maker Ford and ridesharing company Lyft, Argo AI will deploy its product for commercial use in Miami, officially launching its goal of putting 1,000 vehicles on the road through Lyft across several cities over the next five years.
“This collaboration marks the first time all the pieces of the autonomous vehicle puzzle have come together this way,” Lyft cofounder and CEO Logan Green said in a statement. “Each company brings the scale, knowledge and capability in their area of expertise that is necessary to make autonomous ride-hailing a business reality.”
All autonomous vehicles available for passenger rides through Lyft will still have a human driver in place for emergency safety measures if needed. Once the new vehicles are fully available in the designated services areas, Lyft users will be able to select from both traditional ride-hailing options and Ford self-driving vehicles programmed by Argo.
A news release did not disclose whether or not the vehicles will be electric or fossil fuel-powered. Ford, however, has been a recent leader in the electric vehicle sector, announcing this year a $22 billion investment in electrification through 2025, including the development of a zero-emissions F-150 Lightning, an electric version of the top-selling truck in the United States. The company also said it expects 40% of its global sales volume to come from electric vehicles by 2030.
This full deployment from Argo AI and its partners comes sooner than expected, and might be the first instance of commercially available autonomous vehicle services. Lyft had initially announced an expected 2023 launch of autonomous vehicles through partnerships with Motional, a Boston-based company with Pittsburgh offices. Aurora, another local self-driving company that just announced plans to go public through a SPAC, also previously shared plans to bring its Aurora Driver on the road by the end of 2023.
Through this new partnership, Lyft will receive a 2.5% common equity stake in Argo AI, which is reportedly readying to go public by the end of the year with an expected valuation of more than $7 billion. If that happens, the company will be the third in Pittsburgh to do so in 2021 — following Duolingo and Aurora — and will undoubtedly create more local wealth and bring new tech jobs to the area.
Argo AI’s product launch is a long time coming. One of the company’s cofounders and current CEO Brian Salesky has roots in Carnegie Mellon University winning team for the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, which was reportedly “the first time autonomous vehicles have interacted with both manned and unmanned vehicle traffic in an urban environment.” Since founding the company in 2016 with current President Peter Rander (who previously worked as the engineering lead for Uber’s now-sold self-driving unit), Salesky and Argo AI have earned billions of dollars in investment from Ford and Volkswagen.
So far, the three companies collaborating on this initiative have only announced plans for a commercial launch in Miami by the end of this year and then in Austin by early next. Ford, for its part, shared that it has built up a larger presence in those two cities and Washington D.C., where Argo AI also has an office. While a date for the full launch in Pittsburgh remains unclear, Argo AI’s continued headquarters and testing fleets here suggest that the steel city could see autonomous vehicles through Lyft at some point in the next five years of this full deployment.
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-