DEARBORN — Ford Motor Co. Friday announced plans to open a dedicated research laboratory in the Silicon Valley area of California early this year.
The automaker said the new lab is not just about technological advances in building cars, but about the more general topic of “personal mobility.”
The first staffer at the lab is T.J. Guili, who will manage Ford’s relationship with the Stanford University Center for Automotive Research.
Ford spokesman Alan Hall said the lab would be staffed up to about 15 people over the next two years, with the majority hired from California. He said the staff will be recruited broadly — not just electrical engineers or computer scientists, but perhaps physicists or rocket scientists, who could help Ford innovate.
Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally will elaborate on the new areas of focus for the Silicon Valley lab, plus Ford’s latest industry-leading technologies, when he speaks Wednesay, Jan. 11 on a panel at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Ford Research and Innovation, the company’s advanced engineering arm, will open the new Silicon Valley lab in the first quarter. 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.
“Silicon Valley represents a deep and dynamic technology neighborhood and is far from Dearborn,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader for open innovation with Ford Research and Innovation. “With so many opportunities and so much potential, our new lab will allow us to scout new technologies and partners in their own environment and continue our expansion beyond the traditional automaker mindset to drive innovation for a better mobility experience.”
Prasad – a Silicon Valley veteran himself – will travel from Dearborn to the Bay area regularly to shape the lab. Prasad added that the establishment of Ford’s all-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