PALO ALTO, California — Ford opened a new research and innovation center in Silicon Valley, California on Thursday, where consumers are set to benefit from work on autonomous cars, vehicle connectivity and other advanced automotive systems.
Engineers there are working on enabling a vehicle to control a home thermostat and improving speech controls in cars using more natural language.
"At Ford, we view ourselves as both a mobility and an auto company, as we drive innovation in every part of our business," said Ford CEO Mark Fields in a statement.
"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."
He added: "We are working to make these new technologies accessible to everyone, not just luxury customers."
Ford says that by the end of the year, the new facility will employ 125 researchers, engineers and scientists, making it one of the largest automotive innovation centers in Silicon Valley.
Underscoring its commitment to technology, Ford has hired former Apple engineer Dragos Maciuca to run the research center.
Maciuca, who holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and an MBA, also has a background in autonomous vehicles and other advanced systems, as well as considerable experience partnering with academic institutions, which will be useful as Ford expands its collaboration with Stanford University to continue development of the Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle.
As previously reported by Edmunds, work on the autonomous Fusion Hybrid began in 2013 and has continued through Ford's partnership with the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The team in Palo Alto will be using a virtual environment based on gaming software, called aDrive, to test algorithms like traffic-sign recognition in autonomous vehicles, which Ford says will bring the project closer to on-road testing.
Other initiatives include remote technology that allows researchers in Silicon Valley to drive vehicles located at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; integrating with the Nest app to enable a vehicle to control a home thermostat; and an improved human-machine interface that, among other functions, will allow control of power seats using natural language speech recognition and a smartphone or a tablet.
Edmunds says: With the opening of this new research center, Ford has demonstrated its commitment to getting more technology in the hands of consumers.