Argo.ai, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based driverless car startup founded by former executives from Google’s and Uber’s autonomous technology divisions, today announced that it’s teaming up with Carnegie Mellon University to form a new center for autonomous vehicle research: the aptly named Carnegie Mellon University Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research.
Argo.ai says it’ll pledge $15 million over five years to fund faculty leaders and support graduate students conducting studies in pursuit of their doctorates. Additionally, the company says it’ll provide Carnegie Mellon students engaged in autonomous vehicle research access to data, infrastructure, and platforms like Argoverse, a curated corpus of more than 300,000 vehicle trajectories and 290 kilometers of recorded road lanes.
In a blog post, Argo.ai principal scientist and associate professor at Carnegie Mellon Deva Ramanan said that the Center will investigate smart sensor fusion, 3D scene understanding, urban scene simulation, map-based perception, imitation and reinforcement learning, behavioral prediction, and software validation as they relate to driverless vehicle technology. More broadly, it’ll pursue projects to help self-driving cars overcome hurdles like such as winter weather or construction zones, and Ramanan expects its work will “spur engagements” on topics like safety policy and ethics.
“While the team at [Argo.ai] sees a pathway to achieve initial commercialization opportunities for self-driving technology, there are still advancements required to be able to perceive and navigate autonomously in the most complex, open conditions with dramatically lower compute power,” wrote Ramanan, who added that all of the Center’s findings will be reported in open scientific literature. “And until we’re able to do so at scale, the visionary benefits that have been spelled out for society won’t be achieved.”
Ramanan will serve as the Center’s faculty leader along with Simon Lucey, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute specializing in computer vision. The team’s other founding members include John Dolan, David Held, and Jeff Schneider.
“We are thrilled to deepen our partnership with Argo.ai to shape the future of self-driving technologies,” said Carnegie Mellon president Farnam Jahanian. “This investment allows our researchers to continue to lead at the nexus of technology and society, and to solve society’s most pressing problems. Together, Argo.ai and [Carnegie Mellon] will accelerate critical research in autonomous vehicles while building on the momentum of [Carnegie Mellon’s] culture of innovation.”
The Center follows on the heels of Argo.ai’s existing collaboration with Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech, but it’s worth noting it’s not the first of its kind. Intel last October announced that it would launch an Institute for Automated Mobility in Arizona, which will combine three state universities; the Departments of Transportation, Public Safety, and Commerce; and companies working on automated cars, trucks, and drones.
Argo has a close relationship with Ford, which in February 2017 said it would invest $1 billion in the startup over the next five years to help it achieve its goal of producing a self-driving vehicle fleet by 2021. This made Ford the company’s largest shareholder and enabled Argo to hire 200 additional employees, many of whom were Ford employees working in the R&D department on a virtual driver system.
Autonomous hardware and software stacks remain Argo’s core projects, along with the high-definition road maps and virtual driver system that will eventually slot into Ford’s self-driving vehicles. Ford has previously said it intends to launch a self-driving taxi and delivery service by 2021.