Ford headed to Silicon Valley

Automaker will open a research lab in Palo Alto, California this year to develop ways to better integrate technology into its vehicles

January 6, 2012   by The Canadian Press

DEARBORN, Mich.—Ford Motor Co. is the latest automaker to open a research lab in Silicon Valley, where it hopes to scout out new technology.

The company says it will open the lab near Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, in the next few months, eventually employing about 15 people.

Paul Mascarenas, Ford’s Chief Technical Officer, says the company decided about a year ago that it needed a bigger presence in Silicon Valley.

“This is a very natural extension into one of the most innovative communities in the world,” he says.

Mascarenas says the lab will work on ways to better integrate phones and other personal devices into cars and develop safety systems that alert drivers when they’re approaching another car.

The lab will also solicit and test applications from independent programmers.

One app Ford is currently studying can find an open parking space and reserve it. Another would improve weather reporting by transmitting signals when a car’s rain-sensing wipers are triggered.

Mascarenas said the lab will also study larger issues, including population growth in developing countries like China and India and how best to handle traffic in those countries.

The lab will work with Ford headquarters and its design studio in southern California and its office at Microsoft Corp. in Washington. Microsoft and Ford jointly developed Ford’s Sync voice-activated entertainment system and My Ford Touch touch-screen dashboard.

But Mascarenas says it’s important that the lab be in Silicon Valley—not Dearborn—so employees feel free to experiment.

Ford joins several other automakers with similar offices in Silicon Valley, including General Motors Co., BMW AG and the Renault-Nissan alliance.

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