Ford opens autonomous vehicle R&D center in Tesla territory

Ford Palo Alto R&D

At Ford's Palo Alto research center, engineers will be experimenting with remotely driving cars.

Credit: Ford

Ford is working toward having the largest automotive manufacturing research center in Silicon Valley

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Ford on Thursday announced that it is opening a research center in Palo Alto, California, to accelerate its development of autonomous vehicles and how they will communicate with cars and the infrastructure around them.

Located in Stanford Research Park, the facility will expand the automaker's physical footprint in an already existing office space, and the company has plans to grow it further.

With the new facility, Ford expects to have one of the largest automotive manufacturer research centers in Silicon Valley by the end of the year, with 125 researchers, engineers and scientists. Palo Alto is also home to electric car company Tesla Motors.

The automaker also announced a research alliance with Stanford University, giving the university a Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle for engineers to experiment on.

In a statement, Ford CEO Mark Fields said the new research center shows Ford's commitment to be part of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem.

Locating the facility in a high-tech epicenter will help Ford anticipate "customers' wants and needs," especially on connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicles, Fields said.

"We are working to make these new technologies accessible to everyone, not just luxury customers," Fields said.

Ford's new Research and Innovation Center is its third. Ford's research facility in Dearborn, Michigan, focuses on advanced electronics and human-machine interfaces among other things. Another facility in Aachen, Germany, conducts research on next-generation powertrains, driver-assist technologies and active safety systems.

At an opening event Thursday, Ford offered a sneak peek at some of its projects in key areas, including the development of a virtual test environment based on gaming software, called aDRIVE (for Autonomous Driving Refined in Virtual Environments).

The aDRIVE testbed will evaluate 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 said.

The Palo Alto team will also be working on Ford's Remote Repositioning mobility experiment, which is testing how to use 4G/LTE technology to drive a vehicle that is thousands of miles away from the vehicle operator.

That, Ford said, could help lead to more affordable and effective ways to manage car-sharing initiatives, or park vehicles remotely as a new form of valet parking.

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