Ford to open Silicon Valley Lab

Ford is setting up a facility in Silicon Valley to tap into high-tech ideas.

By: David Phillips, Automotive News on 1/06/2012

Ford  Motor Co., aiming to keep ahead of technology trends, will establish a  research lab in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley.The automaker said Friday the lab will open near Stanford University in Palo  Alto, Calif., in the first few months of this year.Ford wants the lab to take on a start-up feel and expand beyond the  traditional automaker mindset to encourage innovation and improve mobility and  safety.

“Silicon Valley represents a deep and dynamic technology neighborhood and is  far from Dearborn,” K. Venkatesh Prasad, a senior technical leader at Ford  Research and Innovation, said in a statement. “With so many opportunities and so  much potential, our new lab will allow us to scout new technologies and partners  in their own environment.”

Ford said the hub will be staffed with about 15 people, including employees  recruited locally and others who will rotate in from Ford’s headquarters in  Dearborn, Mich.Chief Technical Officer Paul Mascarenas said the automaker decided about a  year ago that it needed a larger presence in Silicon Valley.”This is a very natural extension into one of the most innovative communities  in the world,” Mascarenas told the Associated Press.

The small research center will explore ways to better integrate phones and  other personal devices into light vehicles.The lab will also solicit and test applications from third-party software  programmers, Ford said.

Ford sees huge potential in using the car as a moving sensor. For example,  Ford is currently studying an app that would improve weather reports by  transmitting signals when a vehicle’s rain-sensing wipers are activated.

The new lab will work closely with engineers at Ford headquarters as well as  at its design studio in Southern California and offices at Microsoft Corp. in  Washington state.

Ford and Microsoft jointly created the automaker’s Sync voice-activated  entertainment system and My Ford Touch touch-screen dashboard. Ford introduced  Sync four years ago, but the feature has suffered from performance glitches and  quality setbacks.

Ford’s ranking in several third-party quality surveys has suffered as a  result.

Mascarenas told the AP it was important that the lab be in Silicon  Valley–not Dearborn–so employees can feel free to experiment.General Motors, BMW AG and the Renault-Nissan partnership also operate small research labs in the Silicon Valley area.Prasad told the AP that Ford considered opening a Silicon Valley office in  the past but the technology wasn’t ready.

He said the Sync platform now makes it simpler and faster to reprogram a car  and update it with new applications.

“The car is finally a platform,” Prasad told the AP.

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