Ford unveiled Thursday a new business unit called Latitude AI, designed to develop automated driving tech for future vehicles. The division will initially focus on a hands-free, eyes-off driver assist system to improve safety and the driver experience.
In 2017, Ford injected $1 billion into Argo AI, a self-driving startup, along with Volkswagen, in a move to advance autonomous vehicles and strengthen their leadership in the industry.
Initial plans included combining Ford’s virtual driver system team with the robotics talent and expertise of Argo AI to develop and introduce a virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE Level 4 self-driving vehicles by 2021.
However, after Argo failed to attract investors over the years and Ford posted a whopping $2.7 billion (pretax) loss on its investment in the third quarter of 2022, Ford said it was abandoning the company.
Ford shifted its focus from full self-driving L4 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) being developed by Argo AI to internally developing L2 and L3 tech, like Ford’s BlueCruise.
CEO Jim Farley said, “There’s a huge opportunity right now for Ford to give time – the most valuable commodity in modern life – back to millions of customers” as he announced he would absorb some of Argo’s engineers to accelerate internal development.
With today’s press release, it seems Ford is putting the Argo engineers to good use with a newly established Latitude AI division focusing on developing new automated driving tech.
Ford creates Latitude AI for new automated driving tech
Ford’s BlueCruise has already surpassed over 50 million miles of hands-free driving and earned the top spot on Consumer Reports’ latest ADAS rankings, the automaker is looking to expand its automated driving technology.
Following the Argo exit, Ford hired about 550 former employees with machine learning, robotics, software, sensors, cloud platforms, mapping, and safety talent that will lead the new Latitude AI unit.
Doug Field, Ford’s chief advanced product development and technology officer, explains:
Customers using BlueCruise are already experiencing the benefits of hands-off driving. The deep experience and talent in our Latitude team will help us accelerate the development of all-new automated driving technology – with the goal of not only making travel safer, less stressful and more enjoyable, but ultimately over time giving our customers some of their day back.
Field adds that the company sees automated driving tech as an “opportunity to redefine the relationship between people and their vehicles” with new experiences to reduce stress and free up the driver’s focus in the future.
Sammy Omari, Ford’s executive director of ADAS tech, will serve as Latitude AI’s CEO with the company’s headquarters in Pittsburg and an additional highway-speed test track facility in South Carolina.
With full self-driving technology still a few years out, Ford looks to take a strategic approach by focusing on L2 and L3 systems where it already excels and can potentially pull ahead.
Ford has already shown its BlueCruise hands-free driving tech can help keep drivers safe and be life-changing for some, like those who are deaf or hard of hearing, for example. The new business unit will help streamline development with Ford’s newly added talent from Argo leading the way.