FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German industrial group Siemens <SIEGn.DE> plans to invest 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) over the next five years in a new startups unit to help it develop businesses in areas such as artificial intelligence and decentralized electrification.

The funds will be available to employees, external startups and established companies if they want to pursue business ideas in fields that are strategic to Siemens' future, the trains-to-turbines group said on Tuesday.

Siemens, which was founded in 1847 on the then-new telegraph technology, is expanding its core strengths in automation and electrification in new directions to stay at the cutting edge of the digitization of industry.

It said the first project of its new unit, named "next47" after the year of the group's founding, would be the previously announced joint development with Airbus <AIR.PA> of electrically powered planes.

Other important fields will include autonomous machines, networked mobility and blockchain applications for the secure transfer of data in industry and energy trading, the technology on which cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are based, it said.

The new unit will come into being on Oct. 1 and will initially be headed by Siegfried Russwurm, Siemens' chief technology officer. It will have offices in Berkeley, California, Shanghai, China and Munich, Germany.

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Mark Potter)