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Ford opening up Silicon Valley research lab
6 January 2012
Ford Motor Company plans to open a Silicon Valley-based Research Lab—its first dedicated R&D office on the west coast—to scout for new technology and to find new partners to innovate personal mobility solutions for the future. Ford Research and Innovation, the company’s advanced engineering arm, will open the new Silicon Valley lab in the first quarter.
The new Ford lab will be located in the San Francisco Bay area of California and will serve as a hub for independent technology projects and identification of new research investments and partners located along the west coast. Ultimately, the lab will create an “innovation network” connecting Ford’s Advanced Design Studio in Irvine, Calif., and Ford employees working with connectivity platform partner Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash.
An open attitude to new ideas is critical to solving the transportation, environmental and societal challenges we expect in the future. With increasing pressures from urbanization and the need to reduce energy use, we’re going to see energy storage, wireless connectivity, sensing systems and even autonomous vehicles as key parts of the solution.—Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president of Research and Innovation
K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader for open innovation with Ford Research and Innovation will travel from Dearborn to the Bay area regularly to shape the lab. The new research lab’s employees will be recruited both locally and rotated-in from the global network of Ford employees and will spend their time developing and discovering new technologies, trends, partners and collaborative research projects, said Prasad.
The number of Ford employees at its new lab will be comparable to what you expect of a startup, with an emphasis on quality over quantity, said Prasad.
Prasad added that the establishment of Ford’s new Silicon Valley lab will not duplicate or replace work being done at the company’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, its European facility in Aachen, Germany, or the recently established technology office in Nanjing, China.
Ford’s global Research and Innovation team is already working in several key areas that will be supported by the work of the Silicon Valley lab including:
Personal mobility: Mindful of consumer trends and the growth of megacities, Ford is researching new business models that will help avoid the creation of global gridlock through a holistic approach to personal transportation.
Open-source hardware and software developer kits: Working with New York City-based startup Bug Labs, Ford is launching OpenXC, a research platform that will allow developers to access key vehicle data in order to innovate cloud-based apps and services. The first OpenXC beta developer kits will be shipped this month to several participating universities including MIT, University of Michigan and Stanford.
The car as a sensor: Researching ways to utilize the multitude of sensors within the vehicle to improve the road for all drivers, Ford is opening the data channels to developers. For example, San Francisco-based Weather Underground is looking at ways to leverage vehicle windshield wiper activations to improve its weather proximity reporting.
Ford integrates technologies, software and electronics at the same pace as the most innovative companies in the world—our platform just happens to be the car. The new Silicon Valley lab will propel us further as we look at the many facets of life where mobility interacts with society and see how we can make those experiences better for millions of customers around the world.—Paul Mascarenas
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