DEARBORN (WWJ/AP) – Ford Motor Co. is the latest automaker to open a research lab in Silicon Valley, where it hopes to scout out new technology and keep ahead of trends.

The company said Friday that it plans to open the lab near Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., in the first few months of this year. Katie Kerwin of Auto Beat Daily said the company is hoping the move will help it stay ahead of the curve when it comes to new technology.

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“The big thing in autos these days and actually a big way to increase profits is to put more communication technology into cars,” Kerwin told WWJ Newsradio 950. “The main goal is to get more advanced technology into their cars, the kinds of things that people enjoy.”

The lab will employ around 15 people, including some recruited locally and others who will rotate in from Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn.  The lab will work on ways to better integrate phones and other personal devices into cars, as well as safety systems that alert drivers when they’re approaching another car.

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“They want to increase the amount of technology in cars that allows drivers and passengers to hook up their smart phones or iPods to the car wirelessly and to let them do additional functions, email and texting,” said Kerwin.

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.

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

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