DEARBORN – With the 60th anniversary of its U.S. research hub in the backdrop, Ford is ushering in a new era of collaboration, opening up its doors even wider to the possibility of more nontraditional automotive partnerships that can help create a better vehicle experience for customers.
“It is time to rethink collaboration,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation. “Traditional collaboration with automotive partners and suppliers may be what we are used to and comfortable with – and we want those ties to get even stronger – but it is also time to accelerate and embrace new forms of collaboration outside the automotive realm that will help us create not only better transportation, but a better world.”
Mascarenas recently announced another new set of multiple-year research projects with top universities around the globe, including Northwestern University, Purdue, Carnegie Mellon, RWTH Aachen University in Germany and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Projects range from the study of vehicle electrification and driver behavior to innovative forming methods for high-strength aluminum and protective coatings for Li-ion battery electrodes. Ford also has ongoing research alliances with well-respected schools such as MIT and University of Michigan.
Ford will also continue to push the envelope when it comes to investigating and developing more nontraditional industry matchups that will give the company a leadership role in whitespace areas not currently associated with the vehicle experience.
“We are reaching outside of our comfort zone as an automaker to collaborate and create technologies that can change customers’ lives,” said Mascarenas. “Potential projects and players on the discussion board aren’t what you would expect from an automotive company and encompass everything from Silicon Valley startups to health care providers.”
The flexible Ford SYNC® connectivity platform, which started within the walls of “Sci Lab,” has already acted as the impetus for much collaboration unexpected in the automotive space even five years ago. The Ford SYNC collaborative portfolio, for example, includes Microsoft, Nuance, IDEO, Airbiquity, Inrix, Telenav, Pandora, Stitcher and many others. And that list continues to quickly grow.
SYNC AppLink, the software application that allows you to access and control smartphone apps via voice commands, has even helped open the Ford discovery door to the general app developer community. Last year, Ford activated a developer network on its website (www.syncmyride.com/developer), where more than 1,000 interested developers linked to submit innovative ideas and sign up for the latest information and news about the SYNC application programming interface (API) and software development kit (SDK).
Some of the collaborative efforts and advanced research being focused on in the labs include:
- Fuel cell
- Conventional engine technologies (gas and diesel)
- Transmission and driveline
- Powertrain controls and integration
- Environmental sciences, emissions and atmospheric research
- Manufacturing and materials technologies
- Active and passive safety
- Electronics and electrical systems
- User interface
- Infotronics and telematics
- Vehicle dynamics
- Vehicle chassis and controls
- Analytics and e-modeling
In addition to Sci Lab in Dearborn, research and advanced engineering support is conducted at the Ford Research Center in Aachen, Germany, which opened in 1994, and the Ford Research and Engineering Center in China, which opened in 2005.
The Research and Innovation team has achieved numerous major accomplishments within the automotive industry. Ford has more than 4,600 active patents in the United States with nearly 1,300 applications pending. In the last two years alone there have been 475 patents awarded to Ford that name at least one person from the labs as an inventor.
Just some of the advancements to come out of the lab include:
• Catalytic converters and electronic engine controls
• Advanced methods of curing paint using radiation
• Sodium sulfur battery
• Soy foam-based seating material
• Ford EcoBoost™ engine technology
• Inflatable rear seat belts
• Ford’s Plasma Transferred Wire Arc technology
Work in the labs is conducted using state-of-the-art technologies and equipment.
For example, work is done using a Vehicle Emissions Research Lab and Pulsator Lab – where leading work in vehicle emissions takes place – along with a number of anechoic chambers, machine shops, vibration simulators, materials laboratories, computational modeling tools and even electron microscopes. The Virtual Test Track Experiment (VIRTTEX), a large vehicle driving simulator, is also housed there.
The call for more open-source teamwork – with not only traditional automotive players but unlikely tech industry outsiders such as app developers – comes on the heels of the 60th anniversary of the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, which was founded in April 1951.
But even 60 years ago, Ford Sci Lab’s list of accomplishments was not limited to automotive. Ford researchers were instrumental in developing CAT scan-like technology that was used to study osteoporosis as well as the Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID), which hospitals used to evaluate irregular heartbeats or irregular brain waves without the need for invasive surgery.
“The research labs have and always will be the innovation engine driving Ford to be a global leader in safe, sustainable and smart technologies,” said Mascarenas.
Click here for more information about innovations from the Sci Labs.