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Ford forms robotics research team to explore AI beyond cars

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Ford CTO Ken Washington today announced that the automaker will create a robotics and AI research team to explore AI beyond autonomous cars.

“This is the next step in Ford’s automation story,” Washington said. “Ford is poised to drive into the future by expanding automation of mobility products and services.”

The team to focus on AI and robotic research and development is being created, Washington said, because Argo.ai now leads development of Ford’s first generation of self-driving vehicles.

Last summer, Ford announced plans to double its Silicon Valley footprint and said it plans to mass produce self-driving cars without steering wheels by 2021. In February, Ford announced plans to invest $1 billion in Argo over the course of the next five years to help the company reach its 2021 goal. The investment made Ford the largest shareholder in Pittsburgh-based Argo.ai, a company created by former members of self-driving initiatives at Google and Uber.

“This team will be dedicated to a greater focus on evaluating new sensor technologies, machine learning methods, technical requirements for entry into global markets, and development of personal mobility devices, drones and other aerial robotics to enhance first- and last-mile travel,” he said in a Medium post.

The new team will work with Argo but will also continue to explore manufacturing and logistics, as well as building other robots to complete ergonomically difficult tasks.

Washington, who also acts as head of research at Ford, said the team will be part of the research and engineering division.

The cars Ford plans to produce by 2021 will be made specifically for ridesharing. Speaking at the Ford Research and Innovation Center last summer, Ford CEO Mark Fields called the 2021 plan potentially more impactful than the Ford assembly line.

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