Argo AI, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based automated driving company majority owned by Ford and Volkswagen has just begun its first driverless testing on public roads in Miami and Austin. This milestone comes about five and a half years after the company was founded and six months after it first began carrying members of the public in Miami Beach. The two driverless test sites are currently using modified versions of the Ford Escape hybrid.
The on-road driverless operations in Florida and Texas are currently focused on using Argo’s in-house developed ride hailing app to transport employees around the two cities. This approach is similar to that used by Waymo and Cruise for the past several years in the Phoenix and San Francisco areas. Argo has also been carrying members of the public through its partnership with Lyft
Over the past two years, Argo and its original investor, Ford have pivoted their business strategy for deploying automated vehicles. Ford had originally planned to establish its own mobility services business for ride-hailing and deliveries. That plan has been shelved for now and Argo has built a platform for deployment and operations called Argo Connect.
Argo Connect offers application programming interfaces that enable businesses to request an Argo-powered vehicle. A business that needs a delivery or passenger pickup can write their own software that sends the request to Argo Connect which will then dispatch an available vehicle. Argo also built its own Depot Manager and Fleet Scheduler applications.
Like other automated driving system (ADS) developers, Argo is focused on large cities where there is sufficient demand to maximize the utilization of the vehicles and improve operating economics. Argo vehicles are currently testing in eight cities, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Detroit, Palo Alto, Munich and Hamburg in addition to Miami and Austin.
Argo claims this diversity of environments has enabled it to develop a robust platform that can quickly adapt to new environments and vehicle types. After transitioning from the Ford Fusion sedan to the Escape, Argo now has its ADS running on the Volkswagen ID Buzz electric van in Germany. This supposedly allows them to move into new cities and begin operations in just a few weeks.
Prior to launching its on-road driverless testing program, Argo contracted TÜV SÜD to conduct a safety review of its systems and operations. TÜV SÜD is one of the main organizations in Europe that conducts safety testing for vehicle type approval in Europe and it has also done a similar audit for Mobileye before that company began its ADS testing in Germany. The TÜV SÜD review included evaluations of the Argo ADS and all of its procedures at its Pittsburgh area test track as well as in Miami and Austin. Argo is also the first ADS company to get validated by TÜV SÜD for its safety operator hiring, training and oversight in accordance with the Society of Automotive Engineers J3018 standard.
Consistent with its past approach, Argo isn’t giving any specific timeline for when it plans to begin carrying members of the public or doing commercial deliveries in driverless vehicles. That will come when the company is satisfied that it can do so safely.