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Ford commits to London tech community with innovation centre

Ford is opening an innovation centre in east London to tap into the London tech scene

Motorcar company Ford is investing in the London tech sector as it strives to stay relevant in the car industry with a new innovation centre at a London tech hub.

Ford is bringing a team of specialists to its smart mobility innovation office that will open later this year in the Here East complex in east London. It aims to be in close contact with people with different skills and experience and will incubate ideas through the centre.

Speaking at the launch of London Tech Week, Steven Armstrong, president of Europe at Ford, said the company is opening an office as the car industry “enters a new dawn”.

He likened today’s tech hubs to the car industry in Detroit 150 years ago, when all car makers were setting up within a square mile to innovate and invent. “Sometimes it feels that we are back in that period of our industry. There are so many new ideas, approaches and entrants – ranging from pure electronic car companies to augmented reality tech businesses contributing to design and manufacturing.”

Armstrong said the motor industry is at an inflection point, with tech startups converging in the market with 100-year-old companies. “Rather than being afraid of it, we are excited about the opportunities it will bring. We welcome, embrace and collaborate with tech. It is not just in Silicon Valley that we have these needs, but right here in Europe too.”

He said through working closely together in hubs such as Here East, tech firms can learn from the likes of Ford too. “We have a deep understanding of what customers want and how customers experience technology. Whether it’s for safety, environment or entertainment, we are rapidly embedding innovation into our vehicles and making it accessible to millions of people everyday.”

In the future, Armstrong said, technologies important in the motor industries will include artificial intelligence (AI), cars communicating with each other and more advanced driver-assistance systems.

“We know producing a car of the future is not just a technical challenge, it’s a human, social and economic question,” he said, adding that the answers cannot be found by the vehicle manufactures alone. “The auto industry is learning, but we need partners in this brave new world, and that means working with new sectors and finding new technologies.”

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Ford recently invested $1bn with Argo AI, a robotics startup founded by former Google and Uber experts, in a bid to develop a virtual driver system.

Armstrong said companies such as Ford also need to work with universities to attract people with different skills sets. Loughborough University has a presence at the Here East complex and Ford plans to increase its resources there.

“We look forward to increasing our presence [in Here East] and being part of the vibrant east London innovation ecosystem,” he added.

Armstrong said the work at Here East will also help Ford develop a close relationship with the city, which he believes is vital for the company to better understand urbanisation and develop tech to help reduce congestion and environmental damage.

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