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Ford to open Silicon Valley lab to tap ideas

Published on Friday, January 6, 2012

Ford Motor Co., aiming to keep ahead of technology trends, will establish a research lab in the heart of Silicon Valley.

The automaker said today 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.

Phones and cars

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 Co., BMW AG and the Renault-Nissan partnership also operates 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.

Source : David Phillips - Automotive News

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