Argo AI, a self-driving technology startup backed by Ford and Volkswagen Group, reached a major milestone in May. The company’s prototypes are now fully driverless in Austin and Miami, where they are faced not only with heavy vehicle traffic but also a high number of pedestrians and cyclists.
In the case of Miami, Argo AI already has prototypes operating in Lyft’s fleet, specifically in the Miami Beach area where the prototypes also face construction zones in about two thirds of all journeys.
Other U.S. cities where Argo AI tests prototypes include Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Palo Alto and Detroit. The company also tests prototypes in the German cities of Munich and Hamburg. This global reach will help the company’s self-driving system learn from a diversity of road infrastructure and driving behaviors, which will aid in expanding the system to more regions, the company said.
“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,” Bryan Salesky, Argo AI’s CEO and founder, said in a statement.
Argo AI is developing a full self-driving system comprising both software and hardware. A major advantage Argo AI has is its lidar system which can accurately spot and identify objects more than 1,300 feet away, or about 300 feet more than current lidar sensors—something that’s vital for highway driving.
The system ranks at Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability. Level 4 cars can operate fully on their own, though only in set conditions, the main one typically being a geofenced area. The highest ranking is a Level 5 car which would be able to function on its own in all of the same conditions expected of a human.
Argo AI uses Ford Escape crossovers and Volkswagen ID.Buzz vans for its prototypes. The first self-driving ID.Buzz vans are scheduled to hit U.S. roads for testing in 2023.
Ford is expected to offer its first commercial service using Argo AI’s self-driving system as early as 2022, though the automaker hasn’t said where. VW Group plans to launch its first service using Argo AI’s self-driving system in 2025, initially in Hamburg. The service will be an automated taxi service with ridepooling.