Ford’s better idea: The driverless car revolution is being built here
February 16, 2017 12:00 AM
Seth Perlman/Associated Press
By the Editorial Board
The Steel City is fast becoming the next Motor City. Ford’s announcement last week of a $1 billion investment in a Pittsburgh-based company that works on self-driving vehicles all but cements the city’s status as a center of the new auto industry. “It was primarily talent,” a Ford executive said in explaining the decision to invest here.
More than three decades ago, Pittsburghers dared not dream of such fortune. In April 1983, amid a recession and the collapse of steel and other manufacturing, 4,000 people — many of them unemployed steelworkers and autoworkers — protested President Ronald Reagan’s address to the National Conference on the Dislocated Worker at what was then the Hilton Hotel, Downtown. “We know that America’s economic strengths change and grow in different directions, sometimes without regard to the people who have served the old industries,” Reagan said. “This is called the free market, and it is what gives our children and their children an economic future.”
e and seized its economic future. No longer left behind, Pittsburgh is inFord’s announcement may be the most notable sign yet that Pittsburgh has developed new strengths, capitalized on the changing landscap the driver’s seat. When it comes to autonomous vehicles, much of the credit goes to Carnegie Mellon University, whose research and deep talent pool are providing the infrastructure for this emerging industry.
Though it is rooted in the Detroit area and may have preferred to invest there, Ford had little choice but to choose Pittsburgh, where the future of transportation is being invented. Over five years, Ford will invest the $1 billion in Argo AI, a company that will provide driverless technology for a car the automaker plans to introduce in 2021. Argo, now looking for a Pittsburgh headquarters, will hire about 200 people here and in other cities.
Uber already is piloting driverless vehicles here — its test track is a linchpin of the Almono development on a former mill site in Hazelwood — and the U.S. Department of Transportation last month named Pittsburgh one of the nation’s 10 “proving ground sites” for autonomous vehicle development. The designees are expected to shape the safe rollout of driverless vehicles and explore ways in which the cars can “open new doors to disadvantaged people and communities.”
Now, there’s hope that other automakers will follow Ford to Pittsburgh. The driverless car industry in Pittsburgh has reached critical mass. Not even Reagan, the eternal optimist, could have predicted it.
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