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Software supplier Elektrobit plans Silicon Valley autonomous-car research center

Elektrobit is a Finland-based software company that writes code for carmakers like Mercedes-Benz, and it has its sights set on the autonomous-car game.

Speaking to Automotive News (subscription required) at CES today, the company said it plans to open a research and development center in Silicon Valley so it can actively participate in the development of self-driving cars.

That’s an ocean and a continent away from Elektrobit’s current research base in Germany, but right on top of research centers run by carmakers like Mercedes, Nissan, and Volkswagen, as well as suppliers and the headline act of autonomous-car research, Google.

The center will be located near San Jose and will be run by Walter Sullivan, who previously worked on the Ford Sync infotainment system at Microsoft.

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It’s expected to open later this year and have 10 employees by summertime. The work those employees will be doing will be rather discrete.

Elektrobit will reportedly work on software that allows the programs used to actually operate a car autonomously to communicate with onboard hardware.

Sullivan said researchers will focus on “really advanced technology,” and taking this middleman approach allows Elektrobit to stake a claim in the field without actually knowing how these systems will be commercialized and packaged.

Even the most aggressive proponents of self-driving cars seem to think that full autonomy won’t arrive for some time, so those practical considerations are still unknown.

For now, the assumption that self-driving cars are a matter of “when,” not “if” is driving carmakers and companies like Elektrobit to develop the technology.