Connecting cars with tech will eventually lead to autonomous cars, and it’s all baby steps to get there. The size of those steps depends on the resources carmakers allocate, and Ford’s move to expand its Silicon Valley presence shows that it wants to take big steps.
Up until now, Ford and GM have held token offices in the Valley, with 10 or so employees each. Ford has amped that up considerably with the opening of a new Palo Alto research center and plans to add 125 employees by the end of 2015. GM is holding for now, and FCA is still absent.
Heading up this new facility is Dragos Maciuca, who was brought in from Apple and has a breadth of experience, from automotive tech to semiconductor manufacturing. Seems like the right kind of hire to bring in the wide array of talent this research center can hold.
Putting these designers and engineers under one roof allows synergy between labs for immersion and 3D printing…
…along with user interface studies…
…which are followed by instrumented testing on actual cars.
Ford’s current work to match the next-generation Sync 3 to Nest, a connected home thermostat, is one example of the steps in the process to get to full autonomy. This system connects the car to your home to Nest by telling it the temp you are keeping your car so that Nest can match it when you come home. Nest gets a ping from the car as you approach, giving it time to gear up to your preferences.
That’s still a long way off from the car driving you home, but it gives you a sense of how the cloud will soon be arranging your life, even as it precedes your arrival.
It’s apt that Ford is the US manufacturer gunning for the largest footprint in the Valley, as its Sync systems have confounded consumers and driven down its all-important customer satisfaction numbers. Ford had partnered with Microsoft on the system that got the most darts, and it’s hoping for the best with Sync 3’s switch to BlackBerry’s QNX platform. But the more of this Ford can do in-house, the better.
In addition, having a well-placed facility that can attract the attention of both leading-edge employees and up-and-coming companies keeps Ford in the mix, which is where anyone charting a course in these nascent pursuits really should be.
Here’s a video description of how Sync and Nest communicate.
Tell us in the comments – are you looking forward to the era of the connected and autonomous car?