Ford Motor Co., whose vehicles have become rolling computers thanks to partnerships with Microsoft, Google, Bluetooth and others, announced Jan. 6 that it plans to open a research lab near Stanford University to get closer to IT innovators.
The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker said that the Palo Alto, Calif., facility will be its "first-ever dedicated R&D office on the West Coast" and that it plans to open the lab within the next few months. It will employ around 15 people, including some recruited locally and others who will rotate in from Ford's headquarters.
The company is a little late to the party, although there is still plenty of room for IT development in motor vehicles of all kinds. Electric-car makers Tesla and Better Place are already headquartered in the Stanford Research Park area, which includes the Palo Alto Research Center, and BMW, General Motors and the Renault-Nissan alliance also have research centers in Silicon Valley.
Ford said the lab will become a "hub to develop a wide spectrum of partnerships with established and startup tech firms and with universities in the area, such as Stanford."
Ford licenses Microsoft's Sync in-car connectivity system and Google's Prediction API to improve energy efficiency, along with other IT software. Ford uses a sophisticated radarlike system that signals drivers when other vehicles get too close, and it also has an automatic parking feature available on some models.
K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader for open innovation with Ford Research and Innovation (the company's advanced-engineering arm), said in a statement to the press that "Silicon Valley represents a deep and dynamic technology neighborhood and is far from Dearborn."
"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 he traditional automaker mindset to drive innovation for a better mobility experience," Prasad said.