Nissan Motor Co. is opening a research center in California’s Silicon Valley that the Japanese carmaker plans to make its hub for research on self-driving vehicles and Internet-connected auto technology.
The facility will be staffed by more than 60 engineers and technicians within three years, Carla Bailo, Nissan’s senior vice president for North American research and development, said in a phone interview Monday. Work on so-called autonomous vehicle systems will move from an R&D center in Japan to Sunnyvale, she said, declining to provide investment details for the project.
“We’re going to focus on this technology really in the heart of where it lies today,” Bailo said in the Feb. 15 interview. “We are going to be shifting work that’s being done in our Nissan Advanced Technical Center in Atsugi, and moving that work over to the heart of the industry.”
Automakers and companies including Google Inc. plan new electronics and programming for vehicles with a goal of reducing collisions, fuel use and improving traffic flow. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s chief executive officer, told reporters last month in Detroit that regulatory, legal and technological hurdles mean self-driving cars won’t be feasible until about 2020.
Google has tested a self-driving Prius in California for years, and the U.S. Defense Department has sponsored autonomous- vehicle research for more than a decade.
Nissan’s Sunnyvale center will work with automotive labs at Stanford University, the University of California’s Berkeley and Davis campuses, and Silicon Valley companies, Bailo said. The Yokohama-based carmaker plans to apply technology developed at the new R&D center within a decade, she said.
Maarten Sierhuis, a former NASA scientist specializing in artificial intelligence research, will lead the Sunnyvale facility, Nissan said.
Toyota Motor Corp. opened its own Silicon Valley outpost in Mountain View in 2012 to work with technology companies there on in-car data and entertainment systems. The company said in January that it’s developing autonomous safety systems to create a virtual “co-pilot” in vehicles to help drivers avoid accidents rather than self-driving cars and trucks.