Pittsburgh’s reputation as the epicenter of autonomous driving technology has been well-known for years. Now that expertise is officially going global.
Last week, Pittsburgh-based Argo AI announced it will open a new office in Munich, Germany, as part of a $2.6 billion partnership with iconic automaker Volkswagen, making it the first company in the U.S. autonomous driving sector to establish an international presence for its cutting-edge product.
The expansion is just the latest development in the company’s rapid rise to the forefront of the industry.
“From the start, we knew that strong partnerships would be the key to successfully realizing a new form of mobility that has the potential to scale worldwide,” CEO Bryan Salesky and Reinhard Stolle, vice President of Argo Munich, said in a joint statement. “We are committed to working with our partners in a collaborative and transparent way at every step of the design, engineering, manufacturing, and ultimate deployment of self-driving vehicles.”
Argo’s deal with Volkswagen strengthens Pittsburgh’s business ties to Germany, which have been helped over the past several years with a seasonal direct flight from Pittsburgh to Frankfurt operated by Condor.
That route has performed well for the German airline. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Condor to suspend nearly all of its North American service this summer, including Pittsburgh’s, the market will only grow more appealing with Argo’s announcement.
While there have been various efforts for decades around the world to invent driverless vehicles, Argo’s hometown is considered by many to be the birthplace of the technology, starting with landmark research and development at several Carnegie Mellon University labs and projects in the 1980s.
More recently, CMU’s partnership with Uber led to the establishment in 2015 of the ride-hailing service’s Advanced Technologies Center, which also calls Pittsburgh’s Strip District neighborhood home. A year later, 14 of the company’s specially modified Ford Fusions began ferrying passengers around the city primarily using sensors, cameras and artificial intelligence.
Uber’s pilot project solidified Pittsburgh’s pole position in the autonomous driving community and supercharged its influence as a global technology hub.
Launched quietly a year later, in 2017, Argo AI secured a $1 billion investment from Ford Motor Co., and the company’s roots in the Strip District quickly blossomed into operations in five other cities across the U.S., including Palo Alto, California, and Washington, D.C.
But the company’s DNA is inextricably intertwined with Pittsburgh.
Salesky, the CEO, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and worked at CMU before leaving for Google’s self-driving vehicle project. Company president and co-founder Peter Rander was the former engineering lead at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, located blocks away from Argo’s office, and earned his doctorate at CMU.
And while the company’s new outpost in Munich broadens its reach, the Bavarian capital isn’t unfamiliar to developers of driverless cars. The 1980s-era Eureka PROMETHEUS Project at Bundeswehr University of Munich was the largest and most advanced R&D study in the field up to that point.
“The team in Munich brings an incredible wealth of talent, insight, and experience that we couldn’t be more excited about,” Salesky and Stolle said. “We look forward to celebrating the establishment of Argo Munich, which will serve as our European headquarters.”