Wesley Ford, VP of Hardware Engineering at Argo AI, standing by Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

From the Outback to the Valley: How a Hardware Lead Gained Perspective

This story is a part of “We Are Argo,” an ongoing series featuring unique stories and diverse experiences from Argo AI employees. Read more about “We Are Argo” and meet additional members of the Argo team here.

Back in 2011, standing in the middle of the Australian Outback, Wesley Ford couldn’t have known how much a single rainstorm would change his life. As a junior at Stanford University, Wesley had traveled to Australia for the World Solar Challenge, aiming to build a solar-powered car from scratch to race 2000 miles across the continent. Wesley’s team built a sleek, one-person vehicle fitted with an ultra thin glass-encapsulated solar panel, a flexible aerobody, and all wheel steering to mitigate crosswinds. The car attracted media attention and high expectations, sending the team swaggering into the competition.

A few miles in, a tire went flat. Next went the motor, which tore itself apart almost as soon as the car was back on the road. And finally came that fateful storm, which caused electrical shorts that ended the car’s race just two checkpoints away from the finish line. “That was a pivotal moment for me,” says Wesley today. “I never wanted to fail again based on mistakes that could have been prevented.”

Less than a decade after that first foray into the Australian desert, Wesley is the VP of Hardware Engineering at Argo AI. It’s not his first stint in the self-driving car space, having worked at another autonomous vehicle company for three years, but in Argo, Wesley saw a laser-focused company with a goal to make self-driving vehicle technology available at scale.

Wesley joined Argo as the first employee in Palo Alto. During his three years with Argo, Wesley has overseen the team responsible for building what he calls “the eyes and the brain of the self-driving system” — the lidar and radar systems, the sensors and computers, and the cameras that capture images of the environment around the car in order to identify surrounding objects.

At the end of the day, what drives Wesley is not the goal of being the first, but being the best. He knows that the real reward of his work won’t be a front-page feature or a place in a museum. It will be about transforming cities and touching lives across the world.

As for his team’s failure in Australia, that wasn’t the end of the story. Over the ensuing two years, Wesley and his team went back to the drawing board. They designed a car that was more humble and less flashy, reprioritizing execution, reliability, refinement, and practice. They tested, re-tested, and re-tested yet again. And with Wesley as the team leader in 2013, they were the top American team in the race. Not even a rainstorm could stop them.

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