General Electric said Wednesday it has picked San Ramon for a $1 billion technology nerve center to be staffed by 400 software engineers who will spearhead the company's vision of an "industrial Internet" of smart machines.

"This is really going to be the next generation for the Internet," said Bill Ruh, a 30-year veteran of the technology sector and a former executive with San Jose-based Cisco Systems (CSCO) who will head the Global Software Center. "We want to connect devices and machines with each other and with the Internet."

The aim is to make machines operate in very different ways.

"GE could be providing one of the seedlings for a new industrial age," said Rob Enderle, a San Jose-based technology market researcher. "We will move from the current generation of unintelligent machines to ones that are interconnected and smart."

GE offered several examples of the kinds of projects that the center, which will be based at San Ramon's Bishop Ranch complex, will undertake. It might help health care providers use a web of machines and software to more quickly identify and treat ailments, assist power systems in becoming more intelligent to slash customer energy costs, or provide systems in which aircraft and locomotive engines could alert engineers about needed maintenance or repairs.


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Already, a vanguard of about 50 GE employees is working at Bishop Ranch, Ruh said. That will soon grow to 100, before the ranks of the software group swell to 400 within two years.

GE leased 225,000 square feet and should be in its new offices at Bishop Ranch 3 by mid-2012, said Ed Hagopian, executive vice president with Sunset Development, the principal developer of Bishop Ranch.

"This is a brand-new operation. These are new hires. It's employment growth, it's a big win for the community," Hagopian said.

General Electric scoured the Bay Area for possible locations in a hunt conducted by commercial realty firm Cushman & Wakefield before the industrial giant picked Bishop Ranch.

"This is exciting because of who GE is, why they have chosen us and what they plan to do here," Hagopian said.

GE's machines and devices operate in just about every industrial sector.

The engineers at the Global Software Center will be asked to parlay GE's wide reach into what the company calls an industrial Internet. The devices in this web will provide real-time information about how they are operating, all running on a seamless digital platform.

"We want to increase the IQ of these devices," Ruh said. "The more they can talk about themselves and explain their status, the more you can do to improve maintenance and operations."

Machines could effectively have their own social media spaces on the Internet. An engineer could "friend" a machine to determine whether it should soon be fixed. A supplier could "friend" a group of machines to determine if they need parts or have to be replaced.

Plus, GE will be able to analyze the vast volumes of data associated with the operations of its machines, all geared toward greater efficiency and productivity.

"As you make devices more intelligent, the amount of information they can generate is tremendous," Ruh said.

GE now generates $2.5 billion a year in revenue from its software business. The company hopes to drive double-digit increases in revenue in the coming years, Ruh said.

Ruh and his team of 400 software experts in the East Bay will connect with the more than 5,000 GE software employees at the company.

"On any given day, one of our software experts could be working on a clean-energy project while at the same time contributing to a program that improves the delivery of health care," said Mark Little, GE's chief technology officer.

Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477.

Follow him at twitter.com/george_avalos.