Honda Flexes Research Muscle with New Silicon Valley Center
Inside Honda‘s new Silicon Valley research lab, a handful of Uni-Cubs – think motorized bar stools that riders control by leaning this way or that – are ferrying journalists around a brightly lit room under the watchful eyes of engineers giving tips on how to steer. If the gadget is a little odd, so is the fact that Honda, a traditionally modest, tight-lipped automaker, let any outsiders into the lab to begin with. The rare public showing was part of last week’s opening of the company’s sprawling 35,000-square-foot R&D center in the heart of Silicon Valley, where it has united once-disparate strands of its research work and connected them with a technology incubator for other potential research partners.
Honda used the event to debut the freshened 2016 Accord sedan. This new model is the first few cars in the market whose infotainment system will play nice with the smartphone software from two nearby tech companies – Google and Apple. The event was also a chance for Honda to reassert its place among the world’s leading research companies. “We’re really excited about this,” Frank Paluch, president of Honda R&D Americas, told Automotive News. “It’s the next step in the expansion of what we’ve already done here, and this collaboration and partnership is going to give us new seeds that we can plant today to harvest the technologies of tomorrow.”
Honda was well ahead of its competitors in identifying itself as a “mobility” company, rather than just a car company. Its range of products underscores this: Under the “red Honda” corporate banner, the company makes everything from walking-assist devices to outboard motors to motorcycles by the millions, and soon a five-passenger jet. The new Silicon Valley R&D center is part of a renewed effort to get disparate teams to work together and better project that innovative streak. Honda also will use the Silicon Valley location to collaborate with outside companies – even the smallest two-man shop in a garage – in an incubator role.