General Electric Co plans to hire about 400 people to work in a new software development center it intends to open in San Ramon, California, next year, the largest U.S. conglomerate said on Thursday.

The new team, led by Bill Ruh, a GE vice president, will focus on developing software that will help the company's customers use its jet engines, medical imaging devices and other high-end hardware more efficiently.

It's really about making devices more intelligent. Not just how do you put better sensors on them ... but when you collect that data what are you doing with it, explained Ruh, a former Cisco Systems Inc executive who joined GE early this year.

For instance, GE has developed a system to allow its jet engines to communicate remotely with maintenance crews so that if an engine in-flight develops a problem, it can notify ground staff who can have technicians and parts in place to make the repair when the aircraft lands, Ruh said.

GE plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars per year over the next three years in building up the new team and facility in the San Francisco Bay area. The new center will coordinate the work of some 5,000 GE software specialists worldwide, Ruh said.

This is the third U.S. software site the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company has opened in the past two years, following other centers near Detroit and Richmond, Virginia.

Chief Executive Jeff Immelt has nearly tripled GE's spending on research and development since taking the reins a decade ago. The company this year expects to spend about $5.8 billion on R&D, a figure that includes both company-funded and customer-funded work.