Ford has announced it will spend $1 billion to acquire Argo AI, a Pittsburgh robotics startup, in the hopes the expertise will advance its self-driving program.

Argo AI was created a few months ago by Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander, two experts in the field of artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation. Salesky previously worked for Google’s self-driving division, recently renamed Waymo, while Rander was one of the lead voices on Uber’s self-driving program.

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The acquisition is an admission of sorts that Ford is behind in the self-driving race. Mark Fields, the CEO, said the company wants to have self-driving cars on the road by 2021.

Argo AI planned to hire hundreds of employees in the next year, to build a “virtual driver” that is capable of controlling all the car functionality. Ford has not said if the hiring spree will continue post-acquisition.

A self-driving bubble?

Even though Salesky and Rander are big names in the automation world, the move may be seen as the start of the self-driving bubble. General Motors spent $581 million to acquire Cruise Automation, a 40-person startup based in California. Uber spent $680 million to acquire Otto, a self-driving truck startup.

This is the first billion dollar acquisition, but don’t expect it to be the last. As automakers start to realise self-driving is the future, more will start searching for startups to ensure that they don’t get swallowed whole.

Others, we suspect, will look towards Google, Uber or even Amazon for collaboration, as Volvo and Fiat Chrysler are already doing.