- Nissan and partner Renault are moving into an expanded Silicon Valley research center.
- The Nissan center will focus on advanced technology not expected to show up on cars for some time.
- Nissan aims for this to be a center for co-creation of the future automobile with customers and technology communities.
SUNNYVALE, California — Auto companies have been coming to Silicon Valley for decades, trying to learn what they can from its fast-paced technology world and funnel goodies into the automotive system.
In the past decade and a half those visits have turned into small offices and are now becoming full-blown research and development centers with dozens of engineers scouring the tech landscape to see what can be gleaned for automotive use. Nissan is the latest to open a large facility, expanding on the smaller joint office with partner Renault that set up shop two years ago.
The company has also hired a new director, Dr. Maarten Sierhuis, to run what has been dubbed as NRC-SV (Nissan Research Center Silicon Valley). Sierhuis' expertise in artificial intelligence gives a good view of the focus of the new center, which will be on autonomous driving, connected vehicles and the human-machine interface.
Sierhuis comes from a 25-year career of research and software engineering, including work on the Apollo program for NASA and some time at Xerox's famous PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), the birthplace of laser printing, the Ethernet and nothing less than the modern personal computer and its graphical user interface. The background should serve as a good basis for the challenges that NRC-SV will tackle.
"We want to help cars to know what I (the driver) wants to do and when, to learn our preferences," Sierhuis said in explaining some of the direction his group will take. He'll have plenty of help as the center is expected to expand to more than 60 team members within a couple years.
NRC-SV becomes Nissan's sixth U.S. research center, joining 29 sites worldwide employing more than 20,000 people. It will be one of the company's major research centers, joining ones in Detroit, Russia, India and two in Japan. It's located in the city of Sunnyvale, which boasts being the corporate headquarters of Yahoo!, Network Appliance and Juniper Networks, and hosting facilities for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Apple and HP, among other companies.
Mitsuhiko Yamashita, executive vice president of Nissan's R&D operations, summed up the challenges that he felt his engineers must address — traffic accidents, traffic jams, unproductive commutes and limited mobility for the elderly and disabled. "What is needed is a more intelligent car," he said, summing up the goal of what he termed "co-creation" of future automotive technology.
That work would be done not only by NRC-SV employees, but through programs with local universities (Stanford was represented at the opening, discussing 10 years of work with Nissan) and local companies. As Yamashita explained it, the center is expected to become "part of the Silicon Valley eco-system."
As for the time frame of the work, while the focus is on advanced technology, Yamashita presented a slide that showed field and track testing of Nissan's autonomous vehicle starting later this year with connected vehicle and personalized user interface work already in progress. You won't see cars (other than advance prototypes) coming out of NRC-SV, but their work will likely show up first in the dashboard and elsewhere where drivers connect with their vehicle in future Nissan and Infiniti products.
Edmunds says: Nissan's R&D efforts will be enhanced by their expanded presence in Silicon Valley. Expect to hear more about connected and autonomous cars as they get more embedded in this technology hub.