Ford Opens New Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto

Author

Karl Brauer, Contributor

January 23, 2015

Ford Motor Company is opening a new, expanded Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto. The company plans to employ 125 people in the new building with a focus on future technology in the areas of autonomous driving, car connectivity, human-machine interface, smart mobility and big data. Some of the center’s employees will come from Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, but the majority of the team will be new hires specializing in advanced technology. Dragos Maciuca, a former Apple engineer with a background in consumer electronics, aerospace, semiconductor manufacturing and automotive, will lead Ford’s new team in Palo Alto. The Ford Research and Innovation Center will give Ford one of the largest automotive research teams in Silicon Valley.

Mark Fields, Ford’s president and CEO, recognizes the rapid changes in personal transportation being driven by technology, and he wants Ford to be an integral part of this evolution. ”At Ford, we view ourselves as both a mobility and an auto company, as we drive innovation in every part of our business,” said Fields. Fields was on hand at the opening, along with Ken Washington, President of Research and Advanced Engineering and Raj Nair, Ford’s group vice president, Global Product Development and chief technical officer. All three spoke about the increasing synergy between technology and automobiles, as well as the need for companies like Ford to connect with high-tech entities in Silicon Valley.

For example, Stanford University will collaborate with Ford in the development of autonomous vehicle technology. Ford provided Stanford’s engineering program with its latest Fusion autonomous test vehicle to begin testing algorithms related to planning and prediction in driverless cars. Fields acknowledged autonomous vehicles are a key part of the center’s efforts, but its only one of many projects the company’s team will work on.

“For us it’s this higher order of smart mobility” that Ford wants to address, said Fields. His goals include solutions to the increased urban density and growing air pollution issues facing many regions of the planet. One of the Research and Innovation Center’s teams is studying the driving patterns of  people as they park, noting that up to 30 percent of urban congestion comes from people looking for a parking spot.

In-Car Connectivity  and human-machine interface design are two more areas the center will focus on. Imagine smart home applications like Nest working with your car to understand when you’re coming and going while synchronizing home energy needs to conserve resources. The ability to quickly upgrade vehicle hardware is another challenge Ford wants to solve. Currently it’s easy to upgrade vehicle software through wifi connections, but if vehicle hardware goes out-of-date it can be prohibitively expensive to replace it. Ford is looking at modular system designs that are readily swappable when improved versions are developed.

This range of issues will continue to expand as Ford’s new Research and Innovation Center identifies additional transportation challenges. The melding of cars and computers has been under way for decades, but these kind of investments by global automakers suggest it’s only just begun.

This article was written by Karl Brauer from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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