Ford of Canada this week showed off its Ottawa tech centre and the facility's primary product: a new, home-grown edition of the automaker's Sync infotainment system.
Though still known as Sync 3, the communications and entertainment system has been significantly updated with larger, vertically oriented screen, streamlined controls for everything from radio presets to door lock settings, even an opt-in driver feedback feature to help Ford engineers make future improvements.
The updated system will debut in the revamped 2020 Ford Explorer, which was on display in preproduction form at Ford's Connectivity and Innovation Centre in Ottawa's tech suburb at Kanata.
It's the first version of the software to be fully designed and tested by Ford as the automaker focuses on communications technology in the march toward connected vehicles.
"Connectivity is a foundational component," said Chuck Gray, Ford's Detroit-based director of electrical and electronic systems engineering.
Much of the development took place at the $500-million Ottawa centre, which opened in 2017 with the help of $200 million in federal and provincial funding and included a deal to hire engineers from a former BlackBerry r&d centre in Canada’s capital.
Employment in Ottawa and at satellite offices in Oakville and Waterloo, Ont., has jumped to more than 500 from 300 in just two years, with more hiring expected as Ford becomes the chief tenant of a new building set to rise next to its existing offices.
"We don't want to make a commitment to numbers, but we can say there is a lot of work [available] in the work we do," Zoltan Racz. chief engineer at the Ottawa centre, told Automotive News Canada.
The expansion comes even as the automaker sheds white-collar jobs in other areas in an effort to trim 10 per cent of its global workforce. The company won't say how many cuts were made in Canada.
Its increasing emphasis on technology is evident at the well-equipped Ottawa centre, where electronics test benches line the largest lab alongside cars and trucks on hoists. A black curtain concealed a prototype vehicle.
Another lab is heavily shielded to protect gear from outside radio interference, while in an nearby "accelerated life test" lab, software is run over and over in search of flaws. Said one staffer: "Our job is to find the defects that are hard to find."
Other work at the centre focuses on the coming 5G wireless standard and related V2X or "vehicle-to-everything" communications, the company acknowledged.