The future has arrived in Greenville – riding “shotgun” with Argo AI, a global leader in autonomous vehicles, coming to the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SC-TAC) on the former Donaldson Air Force Base campus.
Mayor Knox White joined Argo AI president Pete Rander as he announced expansion plans. Rander said he’d been looking for a place like Greenville for five years – about as long as the company has existed. Argo AI's choice of location includes utilizing the International Transportation Innovation Center’s (iTiC) world-class automotive test track.
South Carolina’s “business-friendly environment” drew Argo AI to the state, and Rander was pleased when Greenville, SC-TAC, iTiC all “lined up remarkably well” for his company. Argo AI believes in a future where people have personal freedom to choose whether to drive or to allow their car to drive. Until now, Argo AI has focused primarily on audio-visual (AV) technology in inner cities.
Rander said the company’s success comes from leading the “Argo Way” - by finding partnerships. Automotive giants Ford and Volkswagen are investors and customers. Walmart has also partnered with Argo AI and Ford to provide autonomous delivery service in Austin, Miami, and Washington, D.C.
The Greenville location and the company’s fourth test track will give Argo AI the ability to safely test self-driving cars at high speeds. Argo AI employees will simulate real-world highway driving on their closed track in Greenville. Rander said they need to have a “brutal experience” every day at the test track in order to be prepared for anything that could happen in the real world.
Deputy SC Secretary of Commerce, Ashely Teasdel joined the event in Greenville for what she called a “celebratory day.” Teasdel said Argo AI’s arrival represents a great opportunity for South Carolina. “We cannot turn on cruise control,” she said. “We have to put our foot on the gas.”
Teasdel called Argo AI a “trailblazer” and a “transformational” company. Greenville Area Development Corporation President and CEO Mark Farris agreed, crediting investments made decades ago in SC-TAC and Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research. Both, Farris said, are forward-thinking examples of “If you build it, they will come.”
Jody Bryson, president and CEO of the SC-TAC, led a “fireside chat” with Greenville Mayor White and Argo AI’s Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer Summer Fowler.
Fowler is looking forward to the challenges that come with developing AV technology, as well as the challenge of gaining the public’s trust. She will draw on her experience in Austin and Miami, where Argo formed advisory boards to help build trust between the company and the community. Advisory board members Fowler said, serve as ambassadors for Argo, but they also teach the company about their community and what’s important to the people who live there.
The drive to see Argo AI succeed hits close to home for Fowler, whose oldest child is now learning to drive. “If I had a choice between my teenager driving and an autonomous vehicle, I’ll take the autonomous vehicle every time,” she said.