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✇ TechCrunch

Self-driving vehicle startup Argo AI completes $2.6B deal with Volkswagen, expands to Europe

By Kirsten Korosec — June 2nd 2020 at 06:40

Volkswagen Group finalized Tuesday its $2.6 billion investment into Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based self-driving car startup that came out of stealth in 2017 with $1 billion in backing from Ford.

The deal turns Argo into a global company with two customers — VW and Ford — as well as operations in the U.S. and Europe and an instant jump in its workforce. Autonomous Intelligent Driving, the self-driving subsidiary that was launched in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group, will be absorbed into Argo AI. AID’s Munich offices will become Argo’s European headquarters.

That integration, which can begin now that the deal has closed, will expand Argo’s workforce to more than 1,000 people. Argo also has offices in Detroit, Palo Alto, and Cranbury, New Jersey. The company has fleets of autonomous vehicles mapping and testing on public roads in Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Argo AI is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles. That mission now expands to VW. Ford and VW will share the cost of developing Argo AI’s self-driving vehicle technology under the terms of the deal.

“Building a safe, scalable and trusted self-driving service, however, is no small task. It’s also not a cheap one,” Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC CEO John Lawler said in a blog post.

Two years ago, Ford said it would spend $4 billion through 2023 in a newly created LLC dedicated to building out an autonomous vehicles business. Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC houses the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams.

Lawler emphasized that “sharing development costs” doesn’t mean Ford is reducing its overall spend in autonomous vehicles. Instead, the company said it will reallocate money towards development of transportation as a service software and fleet operations for its eventual self-driving service.

Despite this shared investment, Ford and VW will not collaborate on the actual self-driving vehicle service.

Lawler, who is also vice president of mobility partnerships at Ford, said the U.S. automaker “will remain independent and fiercely competitive in building its own self-driving service.”

Argo’s board will now be comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats.

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Detroit to be first to deploy Abbott Labs’ 5-minute COVID-19 test, mayor says

By Matt Burns — April 2nd 2020 at 00:26

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said today on Wolf Blitzer’s CNN show that the city of Detroit is on track to be the first city to deploy Abbott Labs’ five-minute COVID-19 test. The mayor said that the test would be available for first responders. The goal, he said, was to allow those first responders who are self-isolating but have yet to test positive for the virus.

The city of Detroit received the Abbott Labs tests today, April 1. They will be available for use within the next 24 hours, the mayor said.

This system from Abbott received emergency clearance for use in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s a lab-in-a-box that is roughly the size of a small kitchen appliance. The small size and rapid test results mean it can be deployed and utilized more quickly than other methods.

The City of Detroit is getting hit, especially hard by the novel coronavirus. According to recent numbers, the counties around Detroit contain 81% of Michigan’s 7,615 coronavirus cases. Over 20% of the 2,500-strong police force is quarantined with suspected instances of Covid-19.

The significant number of cases in Detroit led the mayor to go outside of traditional channels to obtain the tests first.

As The Washington Post tells it, Mayor Mike Duggan secured the cellphone number of Miles White, the chairman and outgoing CEO of Abbot Labs, and woke him up Sunday morning to beg for the test. This early morning phone call netted the city five machines and 5,000 tests.

Today the company said in a tweet that it’s making the system available this week in an urgent care setting in the U.S. where the company already has instrumentation. Abbott Labs says it already holds the most significant molecular point-of-care footprint in the U.S.,” and is “widely available” across doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics, emergency rooms, and other medical facilities.

Abbott expects it will be able to produce 5 million tests in April, split between the new rapid tests and traditional lab tests that received emergency authorization from the FDA on March 18.

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