One of Pittsburgh’s homegrown autonomous vehicle companies officially has its cars on the road — without any drivers.
Strip District-headquartered Argo AI announced this week that it had launched operations for fully driverless vehicles in Austin and Miami. Previously, its vehicles operated autonomously with a safety driver present for emergencies. The news comes ahead of an expected public offering for the company later this year and after a series of new safety updates on its core technology.
The launch marks a significant step forward for both the company and the autonomous vehicle industry, for which success is highly dependent on public acceptance and normalization of its highly disruptive tech. With a number of companies across the country working toward some version of the commercialization of autonomous vehicles, Argo now has a leg up in the field of competition.
“Argo is first to go driverless in two major American cities, safely operating amongst heavy traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists in the busiest of neighborhoods,” said Argo AI cofounder and CEO Bryan Salesky, in a statement. “From day one, we set out to tackle the hardest miles to drive — in multiple cities — because that’s where the density of customer demand is, and where our autonomy platform is developing the intelligence required to scale it into a sustainable business.”
Outside of Austin and Miami, Argo currently has operations in Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Detroit, Palo Alto, Munich and Hamburg. The company didn’t share an estimate of when its other markets will launch fully driverless operations, but said that it can currently reach about two million people and thousands of businesses across its Austin, Miami and D.C. operations. It expects to reach upward of 15 million people as it expands its coverage to the entire metropolitan areas of those cities.
Currently, Argo AI operates test fleets of Ford Escape Hybrids and Volkswagen all-electric ID. Buzz vehicles, which host its autonomy platform. The company has also partnered with Lyft and Walmart to help increase use of its fleet for ride-hailing and delivery needs.
Argo did not provide details on how many customers have used its commercial services offered through Lyft and Walmart, but noted that its pilot programs for both have allowed the company to continue training its platform in a diverse range of scenarios.
In Miami Beach, Lyft’s ride-hailing services using Argo’s fleet frequently expose the autonomous platform to complex traffic scenarios. It experienced a 95% frequency of needing to handle pedestrians walking outside of designated walk areas on rides, 95% frequency of encounters with cyclists and 67% frequency of encounters with construction. The more Argo vehicles come up against new situations, the more easily they can adapt to new markets as well, the company said in a press release.
As for why the company is launching its pilot now and specifically in Austin and Miami, Argo’s Senior Communications Manager Catherine Johnsmeyer told Technical.ly in an email that it’s “because we are ready.” The company’s autonomy systems reached the standards of performance and safety that Argo requires, she wrote.
“We have been operating in Miami since 2018 and Austin since 2019. We have always focused on building operations in cities where autonomous vehicles will have a strong business and positive community impact,” Johnsmeyer said. “Miami and Austin are two major markets where we are building a scalable autonomy business. ”
Neither Johnsmeyer nor any of the company representatives quoted in the press release commented on a public offering for Argo, which is expected by the end of the year, if not sooner. And while EVP of Product Development and CTO Brett Browning put out a blog post through the company on what going driverless means for Argo’s future, he did not comment on whether or not that future includes a public offering.
Instead, he concluded the post saying “today, we’ll celebrate going driverless. Tomorrow we push on to the next technical milestone and our ultimate goal: to launch the product at scale.”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.
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