Ford Motor Company has made significant improvements in its award-winning SYNC voice-activated in-car communications and infotainment system, adding more voice control while simplifying the commands needed to access most functions. The voice upgrades, powered by Nuance Communications, will be available on the next generation of SYNC powering Ford’s new driver connect technology, MyFord Touch, launching in 2010.
Upgrades to the SYNC speech engine, the part of the system that “hears,” interprets and responds to voice commands, result in a system that recognizes more than 10,000 first-level commands – up from only 100 in the first generation of SYNC – simplifying the command structure.
“SYNC broke new ground for voice-activated in-car technologies when it was introduced in 2007,” said Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas. “With constant refinement and further technological advances, we’re aiming to help make our customers’ lives more convenient and help reduce driver distraction.”
The new system can also interpret keywords to determine if a user is searching for a particular song or genre, and Nuance’s innovative “one-shot” navigation destination entry allows SYNC users to say a building number, street name and city in one command, replicating natural speech patterns.
Ford knows that customers are increasingly using mobile electronics while driving, and studies show hands-free, voice-activated systems such as Ford SYNC offer significant safety benefits versus hand-held devices. In recent Ford-conducted market research of SYNC owners, more than 60 percent reported that they use the voice controls while driving.
According to a 100-car study conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, driver inattention that may involve looking away from the road for more than a few seconds is a factor in nearly 80 percent of accidents. Improvements to SYNC should help drivers accomplish tasks hands-free using natural speech patterns and fewer commands, enabling them to focus on the task of driving.
Better results, more often
Much of the new power in SYNC comes from the system’s ability to interpret commands that may not necessarily follow the preprogrammed syntax. And when SYNC isn’t sure what a driver is requesting, it can make suggestions based on portions of the command it recognizes.
“Users who aren’t familiar with specific commands can say something like ‘Play some music’ or ‘I’d like to hear some jazz’ and SYNC will realize they want to listen to music,” explains Brigitte Richardson, Ford Global Voice Control Technology and Speech Systems lead engineer. “The system will then guide them into the media playback commands to get more specific instructions. The additional recognition should help ease the learning curve for new users and customers who aren’t familiar with the exact command for a feature they don’t often use.”
SIRIUS satellite radio will also benefit from the latest voice-control upgrades. Direct tuning via voice command will let drivers speak a music genre, program or sports game and the system will automatically tune to an applicable SIRIUS station. Since SIRIUS varies sports broadcast stations – a team on one channel for a particular game may be on a different channel for the next – searching by sports team names should be a particular convenience improvement for sports fans.
The award-winning Ford navigation system will also receive welcomed upgrades to its voice capabilities. The SIRIUS Travel Link™ information portal that provides drivers and passengers with access to up-to-the-minute information such as sports, current weather, traffic, fuel prices or movies will respond to basic questions like “I want to know what gas costs” or “Get me NFL scores.” One-shot destination entry now permits users to speak a full destination address in a single command rather than waiting for city, street and building number prompts.
“One-shot destination entry is going to make life a lot more convenient for navigation users,” said Richardson. “Ford has aligned entering a destination with drivers’ natural speech patterns, making it more like dictating an address to a friend.”
Voice-activated phone functions receive the same advancements, with drivers no longer having to specify “Phone” before instructing SYNC to call an entry in their address book. The new command structure allows users to simply say “Call John Smith” to place the call.
“It’s only through continuous improvement that Ford will maintain its lead in voice-activated vehicle controls,” Fields said. “Making SYNC even more intuitive and easier to use will encourage more drivers to take advantage of its hands-free capabilities, helping them keep their focus on driving.”