Why Ford is growing its Silicon Valley research center

By Brian Steiner, Contributing Writer

In January, Ford began an ambitious expansion of its Research & Innovation Center in the heart of Silicon Valley, hoping to assemble a team of about 125 engineers this year.

James A. BuczkowskiThe goals for the Palo Alto lab, which opened as a small outpost in 2012? To better understand how we drive, how we interact with the existing electronics inside the vehicles and the ones we bring onboard, and how we communicate. Self-driving vehicles are also part of the picture.

“Palo Alto is important to us because it’s our way of connecting into a very vibrant network of innovation that occurs in the culture of Silicon Valley,” says Jim Buczkowski, Director of Electrical and Electronics Systems at Ford’s Research and Advanced Engineering division. That includes relationships with both tech companies and academic institutions. “Being there is a necessary component of being able to pick up what’s going on,” he says.

Transportation megatrends

In expanding its presence in Silicon Valley, Buczkowski says Ford hopes to accelerate work on its Smart Mobility initiative, which encompasses technologies like connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, and data mining. Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, the initiative aims to launch 25 experiments that will test new ideas in transportation — and shape Ford’s future investments. The experiments all focus on what Ford sees as four global megatrends in urban areas:

  • Explosive population growth
  • An expanding middle class
  • Air quality and public health concerns
  • Changing customer attitudes and priorities.

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