Argo AI will work to develop a new software platform for Ford's fully autonomous vehicle, due in 2021.

Ford has announced plans to invest $1 billion in Argo AI, a startup focused on artificial intelligence technology.

The funds will help pay for five years of development, allowing Argo to create an entirely new software platform to power Ford's first fully autonomous vehicle due in 2021.

"The team of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence is led by Argo AI founders Bryan Salesky, company CEO, and Peter Rander, company COO," Ford said in a statement. "Both are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively."

The Argo AI team will work alongside Ford's own engineers to develop the 'virtual driver system' for an SAE Level 4 vehicle. The standard is defined as capable of operating autonomously in almost any situation, except for inclement weather and other extreme scenarios. While activated, such systems do not require a human to remain attentive to the driving task. The company will still have more work ahead to achieve Level 5 autonomy, where a human can simply pick the destination and let the car handle all driving tasks in any conditions.

Ford CEO Mark Fields suggest AI will have as significant an impact on society as the moving assembly line did at the beginning of the 20th century.

"This open collaboration is unlike any other partnership - allowing us to benefit from combining the speed of a startup with Ford's strengths in scaling technology, systems integration and vehicle design," says Ford CTO Raj Nair.

Argo AI will also be allowed to license its autonomous driving software platform to other automakers.