Widgets Magazine

Ford to open research center in PA

Silicon Valley’s potential newest industry may be cars. Automotive company Ford recently announced plans to open a research innovation center in Palo Alto, joining a growing community of vehicle manufacturers tapping into the Valley’s resources.


The company announced in early January that it plans to open the lab near Stanford’s campus and would employ about 15 people. The center is scheduled to open in the beginning months of 2012.


Ford is currently a member of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS) affiliate program, which is run through the University’s Mechanical Engineering Department. Companies that serve as affiliates are granted access to shared research and education initiatives on campus.


According to CARS Executive Director Sven Beiker, Ford’s partnership with the program may have been “part of a strategy” to enter the Silicon Valley.


“The center of gravity is shifting in the automotive world,” he said. “It used to be about horsepower and speed–and those are still important–but it’s also now megabytes and bits per second. These things are starting to matter in the car world.”


Some of Ford’s newer model cars feature applications such as Sync, a voice-activated entertainment system and a touch-screen dashboard developed in conjunction with Microsoft. Beiker said the move out west is a way for the company to keep in touch with other “leading-edge technologies being explored here.”


“The automobile is seen as the final frontier in the connected lifestyle,” Beiker said.


“On the one hand, the car is already a computer on wheels…but this so far has mainly been to control the vehicle itself; it’s not so much a computer for the driver to play with.


“And all of these things are now in cars because we’re bringing smartphones to the car. The research is now focusing on how we do this safely.”


Ford’s Chief Technical Officer Paul Mascarenas said in a press conference that the center is “a very natural extension into one of the most innovative communities in the world.”


Beiker warned that it is significantly more expensive to conduct business in Silicon Valley and that corporate executives back at headquarters may reject the new ideas that come out of the research center. He called the mindset of the Valley “a little bit of a troublemaker.”


“But this is what these companies want and need: to get fresh thinking, detour from the thinking corporate mindset,” he said.


Representatives for Ford could not be reached for comment.