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Ford cuts Silicon Valley tech-centre ribbon

Good neighbours: Sitting on some of America's most desirable real estate, Ford's new research centre joins global tech heavyweights like Google and Facebook.

New tech-capital innovation centre to accelerate Ford research and development

Ford logo23 Jan 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER

FORD has swung the doors open to its all-new research and development centre in the heart of the world's high-tech hub - Silicon Valley, where it will step up development of its connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicle technologies.

At the grand opening yesterday, the North American car-maker showcased various ongoing high-tech vehicle and customer service projects that will now shift up to top gear in the new Palo Alto surroundings.

With Skype and DoCoMo for neighbours, the new Hillview Avenue centre is nestled in the United States' technology start-up epicentre and will grow to employ 125 researchers, engineers and scientists by the end of the year.

Heading up the new centre is Dragos Maciuca – an engineer poached from electronics giant Apple, who will bring both extensive experience in semiconductor, automotive and aerospace technology, as well as an established relationship with university networks.

Ford president and CEO Mark Fields said establishing a Blue Oval research laboratory in one of the most influential technology centres of the world is essential to ensure the company continues to design up to the minute vehicles for everyone.

“At Ford, we view ourselves as both a mobility and an auto company, as we drive innovation in every part of our business,” he said.

“This new research center shows Ford’s commitment to be part of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem – anticipating customers' wants and needs, especially on connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicles.

“We are working to make these new technologies accessible to everyone, not just luxury customers.”

Some of the work to be continued at the tech-centre was exhibited at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas including a Smart Mobility project to make Australian Outback roads safer.

The challenge is one of 11 to address specific driving hazards in different areas of the world and is focusing on accident prone areas of North America, South America, Portugal, Africa, India, China and England.

Other research is making advances to autonomous driving in conjunction with the University of Michigan and MIT. Based on a Ford Fusion mid-sized sedan, the technology is working towards a self-driving vehicle and has even used software normally confined to gaming industries.

Ford's Remote Repositioning experiment is allowing research engineers to drive a golf cart while sitting in the Palo Alto laboratory by using real-time video and 4G/LTE internet connection.

The technology could lead to future ways of managing car-sharing initiatives or high efficiency paring in very densely populated areas, says Ford.

A Nest application is an ongoing connectivity project at the research innovation centre, which can communicate with a household to adjust the temperature of the dwelling before the occupant arrives home.

By only heating or cooling the living space when the passengers of the car are nearby, energy can be saved reducing environmental impact and costly bills without compromising comfort.

In another department, communications specialists are working on boosting computing power for Ford's various speech recognition systems allowing more natural commands to be given to the vehicle.

The faster Graphics Processing Unit does not need such carefully pronounced words to respond correctly and can even learn various different commands for the same function. Operators therefore don't need to learn a specific term for each function.

Intangible technology is not the only type of innovation planned for the Silicon Valley centre, and customer experience branches are being formed to improve vehicle ergonomics.

The “advanced human-machine interface” allows Ford engineers to better understand how people interact with vehicles and has already sparked development of a 10-way adjustable seat that uses inflatable bags to support occupants more effectively.

One area that is increasingly featuring in all areas of vehicle research is “big data” and at Ford's newest tech-hub, scientists are collating huge amounts of customer derived information.

High-powered computers allow the analysis of large quantities of data and can profile general consumer use of machines or more specific needs of individuals.

The system isn't limited to cars either and the team is including bicycles and other common forms of urban transport.

While the new facility will have its own areas of specialisation, research projects will be conducted alongside other development operations at Ford's various R&D centres around the world including Dearborn, Michigan, Aachen in Germany and the Ford Australia development centre in Broadmeadows Victoria.

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