Photo courtesy of Argo AI.

Students from Carnegie Mellon and researchers from Argo AI are gearing up to steer the future of self-driving cars.

This week the Strip District-based startup announced an investment of $15 million over the next five years to establish the Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research at Carnegie Mellon University.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Argo AI Senior Communications Counsel Nick Twork said the Center will pursue the development of hardware and software components of autonomous driving.

That includes the critical sensors and scanners on top of the car: “The vehicle has to be able to sense what’s in its surroundings. You can always improve that,” explained Twork. “But then you have to be able to make decisions, and that’s where the machine learning and artificial intelligence disciplines come into play.”

While much of the company’s in-house staff is busy on projects and technology that’s meant to be ready in the near-term, Twork said the Center will allow the company to take a much longer-term view of the industry.

The focus will be on “the next generation of technology, and pushing the frontier and pushing the envelope of what the technology is capable of,” he said.

“We are thrilled to deepen our partnership with Argo AI to shape the future of self-driving technologies,” CMU President Farnam Jahanian said in an announcement about the project. “This investment allows our researchers to continue to lead at the nexus of technology and society, and to solve society’s most pressing problems.”

Argo and the university already have a record of collaboration. The startup’s machine learning lead, Deva Ramanan, also serves as an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, and the company was founded by a team of CMU alumni in 2016.

“In an era where more faculty than ever are leaving the research arena for industry roles, it’s crucial to support academia while fostering the next generation of leaders,”  wrote Ramanan in a blog post this week.

The announcement about this investment comes just a few months after Mayor Bill Peduto signed an executive order laying out new guidelines for researchers testing autonomous cars on city streets, clearing the way for further research for the city’s growing collection of private autonomous vehicle companies.

“This partnership between Carnegie Mellon and Argo AI, two of the major players in autonomous driving technology, is welcome news for all of Pittsburgh,” said Peduto. “Self-driving cars represent a growing industry and we want to continue to develop and attract the technical talent that will drive it forward.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.