Ford had planned to launch a robotaxi service in DC last year with Argo AI’s technology, but the launch was delayed during the pandemic.
“We learned what we needed to through the in-market testing there and continue to test in Miami and Austin,” Ford spokesperson Jennifer Flake said of DC. VW declined to comment.
Argo AI’s workforce had grown to about 2,000 people from more than 1,000 in 2020. The layoffs were first reported by Automotive News. The closing of Argo AI’s DC operation has not been previously reported.
Many of Argo AI’s competitors, including Alphabet’s Waymo and Toyota-backed Aurora, have already chosen to focus more on self-driving trucks, which industry experts say are much easier to build than robotaxis. The self-driving industry, including Argo AI, have learned that it’s a tall order to teach a vehicle to safely navigate a bustling city, with construction sites, pedestrians, cyclists and emergency vehicles. Trucks, on the other hand, mostly stick to highways.
Argo AI appears to be making significant progress toward a robotaxi service. In May, it announced it was offering self-driving rides without a human test driver behind the wheel to its employees in Austin and Miami. (Two of Argo AI’s rivals, Waymo and GM’s Cruise, operate robotaxis in Phoenix and San Francisco, respectively.)
“With incredible growth and progress made in our mission to deploy driverless vehicles, we are making prudent adjustments to our business plan to best continue on a path for success,” Argo AI spokesman Alan Hall said in a statement.
The city will need to develop a policy to certify such a service, but that’s not being created currently, according to German Vigil, a spokesperson for the District Department of Transportation.
Argo AI and Ford declined to say if regulations were a factor in the departure.
This story has been updated to clarify the relationship of Ford and Argo AI.