Argo AI is a self-driving car technology company that calls both Ford and Volkswagen Group as major investors. It's based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and currently testing prototypes not only in its hometown but also Silicon Valley, Detroit, Miami, Washington, D.C., and a few additional locations.

Argo AI has been developing self-driving technology for many years and is currently on its fourth-generation prototype, which has been installed in a fleet of Ford Escape crossover SUVs for testing purposes. The fourth-generation prototypes started testing late last year and feature what the company claims is “product intent” hardware. That is, the hardware meets all price, performance, and reliability and durability targets required for commercial applications.

Much of the hardware was developed in-house and includes high-resolution cameras, lidar, radar, microphones (used to detect emergency vehicles before they enter the field of view), and inertial sensors. It also includes the powerful computer systems required to process all of the incoming data and then determine what actions to take, all within a fraction of a second.

Argo AI self-driving car prototype

Argo AI self-driving car prototype

There are two main computer systems: a primary system and a backup system that runs in parallel to the primary system. Interestingly, the two computer systems use different detection algorithms so the backup computer has a unique perception ability, which Argo AI said improves the robustness of response in an unexpected situation. The computing systems also have independent communications pathways and power sources for added safety.

As for the software systems that will make use of all the hardware, they are still being developed. Argo AI is developing a system at Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability. Level 4 cars can operate without the need for a human behind the wheel, though only in set conditions, the main one typically being a geofenced area. The highest rating on the SAE scale is a Level 5 car. Such a car would be able to function on its own in all of the same conditions expected of a human.

Ford is expected to be the first company to offer a commercial service using Argo AI's self-driving system. The service was originally due to be deployed in 2021 but has been pushed back to 2022 as Ford evaluates the effects the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic might have on consumer trends in the self-driving space.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ford's first commercial self-driving service will be deployed in 2021.