SoftBank backs new autonomous trucking startup from founders of defunct Argo AI

Sept 7 (Reuters) – Founders behind defunct self-driving startup backed by Ford (F.N) and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) launched a new autonomous trucking firm, Stack AV, on Thursday with investment from Japan’s SoftBank Group.

SoftBank declined to disclose its investment in response to a Reuters inquiry, but Bloomberg News said it will provide more than $1 billion, citing an economic development official in Pittsburgh where the startup will be based.

The city was also home to defunct Argo AI, which was founded in 2016 by Bryan Salesky, Peter Rander and Brett Browning. It was shuttered last year over Ford executives’ concerns that profitable, fully autonomous vehicles were still some ways into the future.

Stack AV, which has 150 employees, marks another opportunity for the Argo AI founders to work on full self-driving technology, which remains far away from mass deployment despite billions of dollars in investment.

“With our proprietary technology and expertise as well as the commitment from our long-term partner in SoftBank, we are confident we will revolutionize the trucking and freight industries,” said Salesky, CEO of Stack AV.

Salesky got his start developing automated vehicles for a Defense Department sponsored competition 16 years ago and has served as director of self-driving cars development at Google.

Rander, who has led teams that worked on Uber’s self-driving prototypes, will be the president of the startup, while Browning will be the chief technology officer.

Their bet comes amid rising concerns among investors and industry executives over tougher-than-expected technological and regulatory challenges that must be overcome before heavy trucks, some weighing over 15 tons, will be allowed to roll down highways without a driver behind the wheel.

Autonomous trucking firm TuSimple said this year it would lay off 30% of its global workforce to preserve cash while rival Embark said would lay off 70% of its employees and start evaluating options, including winding down the business.

Others still developing self-driving systems for trucks include Aurora, which partners with PACCAR (PCAR.O) and Volvo (VOLVb.ST), and Daimler Truck (DTGGe.DE), which has said it could have autonomous trucks in commercial operation by 2027.

Reporting by Jaspreet Singh in Bengaluru and Abhirup Roy in San Francisco; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Tomasz Janowski