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Ford, MIT renew pact through '07

MIT and the Ford Motor Co. have announced a $20 million renewal of their research and education alliance for a second five-year term.

"In the past five years, our work with MIT has resulted in some significant technical progress and has expanded to include new strategic activities," said Gerhard Schmidt, vice president for research and Ford's director of the alliance. "We're very pleased with the new ideas and depth of insight we've gained from interactions between Ford's senior management and MIT faculty members."

The alliance - an MIT-wide initiative financially administered by the Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development - has grown beyond its initial focus areas of environmental science and policy, information technology in product development, virtual teams and education. New interests include specialized research projects and a new program in active safety technology research. The research projects are also linked with recruiting and MIT's educational programs, enrolling engineers and managers that bring new research knowledge back into Ford.

Key projects include:

  • The MIT/Alliance for Global Sustainability Consortium on Environmental Challenges - an environmental research center that supports cross-disciplinary teams undertaking physical and social science projects in environmentally complex and sensitive situations, such as a study of air pollution in Mexico City, the life cycle of different fuels and alternative power sources, carbon mitigation strategies, future water resources problems, innovations in sustainable materials and recycling, and innovative approaches to environmental regulation.
  • Development, testing and implementing DOME (Distributed Object Modeling Environment), which allows engineers at automotive companies and suppliers to use each others' computer design and modeling tools for rapid design changes and improvements.
  • Accelerating development of new 42-volt high-voltage vehicle electrical system standards via virtual engineering concepts and achieving global consensus among U.S., European, and Asian automotive manufacturers and suppliers.
  • Active-safety research projects that apply research results from military and aerospace projects to smart automobiles with an awareness of vehicle occupants, environments and threats.
  • More than 30 other projects focusing on success in engineering careers, factors for successful global teams, future directions for engineering systems, diesel particulate matter emissions reduction, a virtual design studio, quality-enhancing engineering techniques and data searching computer programs.

For Ford, benefits of the alliance include developing new technologies and knowledge to gain competitive advantage, increased profitability and shareholder value. Company employees benefit by working with faculty and students on research projects, and this in turn helps Ford recruit new engineering and science talent.

MIT benefits through funding, access to interesting problems, student preparation for workplace challenges, and joint examination of unsolved industry challenges that can lead to breakthrough research, new theories, academic publications and real-world case studies.

"MIT and its faculty have demonstrated an ability to come together across departmental and disciplinary boundaries to work on interesting, practical problems," said Chancellor Phillip Clay, MIT's director for the alliance. "This work with industry contributes new insights to our faculty and enhances the implementation of MIT research through corporate partners - a cornerstone of MIT's relationship with corporations."

The Ford-MIT Alliance began in September 1997. Nearly 200 MIT alumni are currently employed by Ford, including chief executive Bill Ford, who received the S.M. in the Sloan Fellows Program in 1984, and Martin Zimmerman, group vice president for corporate affairs, who received the Ph.D. in economics in 1975.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 30, 2002.

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