• February 10, 2013
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Drivers Prefer Speech, But It Needs Work

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The days of knobs, buttons, and dials on the car dashboard are numbered. In an era of tablets and smartphones, these conventional automobile control interfaces might soon become as antiquated as whitewall tires, rumble seats, and chrome bumpers.

Increasingly, drivers today want voice activation in their vehicles, particularly for use with their in-car navigation systems. In a survey of more than 20,000 people who recently purchased or leased new 2012 cars with factory-installed navigation systems, J. D. Power & Associates found that 67 percent of owners without voice activation would want it in their next navigation systems, and 80 percent of those who have it would want it again.

But while it's such a sought-after feature, satisfaction with voice activation came in at 544 on a 1,000-point scale, the lowest score among all navigation system features in the study. In fact, input and selection controls were among six of the top 10 complaints logged in the study, which was released in early January. Other issues included problems with the visual display, mapping, and connectivity.

Part of the reason for speech's poor scores, according to Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power & Associates, is that similar applications on smartphones have raised owner expectations, and vehicle manufacturers are having a hard time keeping up. In the study, 47 percent of vehicle owners indicated they use downloaded apps on their smartphones for navigation in their vehicles, up from 37 percent in 2011. Additionally, 46 percent of owners said they wouldn't repurchase a factory-installed navigation system if their smartphone navigation apps could be displayed on central screens inside their vehicles.

Part of the appeal of these smartphone apps is the cost—most are free—but they also offer more up-to-date maps, a more familiar interface, and better voice recognition, VanNieuwkuyk wrote in the report. In-car-system manufacturers "have a window of opportunity to either improve upon the current navigation system platforms or focus on new ways to integrate smartphones," he concluded.

Beyond that, he said navigation systems are no longer viewed as standalone systems but rather as part of a much broader multimedia, safety, and infotainment package.

And the dashboard is only going to get more sophisticated as the safety impacts of speech interfaces in the car become more widely known. One study conducted by Agero and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that a combination of speech and visual interfaces is best for interacting with in-vehicle navigation and infotainment systems.

In the study, two groups of drivers (18- to 30-year-olds and 65- to 75-year-olds) were tested for their levels of distraction while driving on the Virginia Smart Road, a 2.2-mile closed test track in Blacksburg, Va. Participants were asked to complete selected tasks on conventional portable navigation devices and specially designed devices featuring interactive speech and speech/display screen capabilities.

"Across all key measurements—driving performance, ease of use, workload demand, and task execution, defined as the successful retrieval and selection of information—both the speech-only and speech-and-visual interfaces reduced distractions," noted Tom Schalk, vice president of voice technology at Agero, in the report. "The measurements also indicate a speech-only driver interface is best for entering a destination…while a combination of speech and visual cues is best for selecting a particular search result from a list."

The Agero/Virginia Tech study also uncovered another important fact: Speech/visual interfaces, as well as speech-only interfaces, received better marks for perceived mental demand, frustration level, and situational awareness. In other words, when using a navigation device, a combination of speech and visual cues, followed by speech-only, are the most intuitive ways for drivers to request, obtain, and sort real-time information about destinations and routes. By contrast, conventional navigation devices that require touch-screen interactions fared poorly.

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