It’s one more sign – not that we needed one – of the increasing significance of electronics hardware/software/systems technology to competitive cars.
In the past year Elektrobit announced plans to open an automotive software lab, Continental said it was putting together an international team of IT and automotive innovators, and DENSO expanded its Silicon Valley office. Undoubtedly there were others.
The most recent announcement came from Ford, which is setting up a Research and Innovation Center in Stanford Research Park, Palo Alto. It said it’s growing its global research team and accelerating its innovation in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience and big data.
Three years ago Ford announced plans to open its first dedicated research lab in Silicon Valley, one focused on personal mobility research. Ford president and CEO Mark Fields said the new research center “shows Ford’s commitment to be part of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem – anticipating customers’ wants and needs, especially on connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicles.”
Fields added that Ford wants to make new technologies “accessible to everyone, not just luxury customers.”
Ford said it expects to have one of the largest automotive manufacturer research centers in Silicon Valley by the end of the year, with 125 researchers, engineers and scientists.
Ford named Dragos Maciuca to head up the new research center. He joins Ford from Apple, and has experience in consumer electronics, semiconductor manufacturing, aerospace, and automotive.
In its announcement Ford outlined some projects for Silicon Valley team members. They’ll collaborate with folks at Carnegie Mellon University-Silicon Valley to improve speech recognition and support more natural language.
Team members will also work on “remote repositioning mobility.” Someone sitting in Palo Alto will be able to access real-time video streamed over existing 4G/LTE technology to drive golf carts on Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta. The research could lead to a new form of valet parking.
“We view ourselves as both a mobility and an auto company,” said Fields, “as we drive innovation in every part of our business.”