Nearly every automaker from BMW to PSA has a research and innovation center these days. Every company is looking for the next best thing to tempt consumers into buying their vehicle over that of a competitor. While the exterior design of a vehicle gets people into the dealership, the interior is the deciding factor for many and, increasingly, technology is playing a role.
With tech hubs like Google and Apple in California’s Silicon Valley, most of these research and innovation centers have been set up nearby, enabling the company’s employees to rub shoulders with those from other companies in different sectors. This is also the very reason Ford opened its Research and Innovation Center here earlier this year.
Experiments in Motion: Research and Innovation Center Key Projects
Ford plans to accelerate innovation in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience and big data through its Ford Smart Mobility initiative announced at the start of the year. The company has set itself lofty targets specifically geared at research and development in these areas. But what exactly is going on there?
Here are some of the key projects the Research and Innovation Center is currently working on:
It’s no big surprise that Ford is working on self-driven vehicles. But while research and development in autonomous vehicles is a global effort, which includes ongoing work with University of Michigan and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Palo Alto team is also expanding collaboration with Stanford University, a partnership that kicked off in 2013.
Ford gave a Fusion Autonomous Research Vehicle to the Stanford engineering program to begin testing the path planning-and-prediction algorithms researchers have developed over the past few years. The Palo Alto team has also developed a virtual test environment based on gaming software, called aDRIVE (for Autonomous Driving Refined in Virtual Environments), which tests algorithms such as traffic sign recognition in dynamic driving situations. This allows for more aggressive time lines for validating driving algorithms to prepare for on-road testing.
Ford is targeting home energy and emergency system management with its collaboration with Nest. The company is integrating the Nest programming interface while on the road through a series of research experiments, enabling the vehicle to communicate with the Nest Thermostat to switch it to Auto-Away mode to reduce energy use automatically when homeowners leave. Once close to home, the vehicle sends an alert to set the house thermostat to the preferred temperature. Nest Protect can also warn Ford SYNC when home emergency notifications are triggered.