Pittsburgh self-driving car startup Argo to be basedin Strip District |

Pittsburgh self-driving car startup Argo to be basedin Strip District

Aaron Aupperlee
Ford Motor will spend $1 billion to take over a robotics startup to acquire more of the expertise needed to reach its ambitious goal of having a fully driverless vehicle on the road by 2021. The big bet announced Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, comes just a few months after the Pittsburgh startup, Argo AI, was created by two alumni of Carnegie Mellon UniversityÕs robotics program, Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander.
Ford Motor Company
Ford is investing $1 billion during the next five years in Argo AI. Pictured are: Peter Rander, Argo AI COO; Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO; Bryan Salesky, Argo AI CEO; and Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Product Development, and chief technical officer. Salesky and Rander are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.

Argo AI, a Pittsburgh startup company that landed a $1 billion investment from Ford to develop self-driving cars, will base its headquarters in the Strip District, company CEO Bryan Salesky told the Tribune-Review Thursday.

“We see the Strip District as a mini Silicon Valley,” Salesky said. “In my mind, that is the future of the tech hub in Pittsburgh.”

The Strip District is already home to Uber and its self-driving car pilot, as well as Apple and Germany technology giant Robert Bosch, LLC, and close to the robotics hub in Lawrenceville where Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotic Engineering Center, Carnegie Robots, RE2 and others are located.

Both Salesky and Pete Rander, the company’s COO, spent time at CMU’s NREC, which pioneered much of the research and development in autonomous vehicles.

“When we were at the National Robotics Engineer Center, we would pretty much automate anything with wheels and tracks,” Salesky said.

Salesky said the Strip provides Argo the necessary space — a mix of office and industrial — and its location will give Argo employees a convenient commute. Argo will operate a garage to work on cars at its headquarters. Salesky said John Bares, a former head of NREC and Carnegie Robotics who Uber asked to start its self-driving project in Pittsburgh, likely picked the Strip District for those same reasons.

Salesky declined to say exactly where in the Strip the company will move. He said the building is occupied, and Argo wanted to give the current tenants an opportunity to move out before the company announces it is moving in.

A source familiar with the deal said Argo is subleasing about 23,000 square feet of office space on the second floor of the Crane Building on 24th Street. The building has long hosted Pittsburgh startups.

Argo expects to be in its headquarters by the end of March or beginning of April.

Ford announced on Feb. 10 that it will invest $1 billion in Argo over the next five years to partner with the company to develop self-driving cars. Ford has pledged to have autonomous vehicles on the road by 2021.

Argo formed only months ago but has hired Salesky, a former leader on Google’s self-driving project, and Rander, a former leader on Uber’s effort.

Ford will build the cars. Argo will build the virtual driver system — sensors, software, cameras, artificial intelligence and computer power, essentially the brain — to drive them. Salesky said Argo expects to test the self-driving cars on Pittsburgh’s streets but did not know when folks could expect to see them on the roads.

Salesky said the partnership between his company and Ford will be key to ensuring that its technology is integrated into the cars in the safest, most effective and most efficient manner.

In a blog post Salesky published Thursday, he wrote that the company chose Pittsburgh for its headquarters not just because he fell in love with the city when he arrived to study computer engineer at University of Pittsburgh but to have access to top talent.

“We’re embracing this new generation of engineers and scientists who are both discovering the city’s energy and fueling it. Retaining this pool of top-notch talent is vitally important as we collaborate with world-class universities to ensure our great ideas and innovations will support our mission to provide affordable mobility for all,” Salesky wrote.

Salesky said the company is aggressively hiring and hopes to have 200 employees spread across locations in Pittsburgh, southeast Michigan near Ford’s headquarters and in California’s Bay Area by the end of the year.

The company has 11 job openings posted on its website. Of the employees listing Argo AI on their LinkedIn profiles, more than 60 percent came from Uber’s Advanced Technology Center. Salesky said Argo is hiring from several different companies and drawing talent from major universities.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected].

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