• September 1, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Nuance, Ford Collaborate on Speech Understanding and Intent

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Ford is working with Nuance Communications, one of the auto maker’s speech technology partners, on the SYNC in-car telematics system, to try to make voice recognition more intuitive.

The two companies are testing new algorithms, based on intent and meaning, for the voice recognition system in SYNC. The techniques would be able to flag common words and phrases that drivers might use in conversations but are not tied to specific commands required by SYNC. By interpreting or understanding the user’s request, SYNC would be able to execute the command or respond by coaching the user down the correct command pathway.

“With each generation of SYNC, we have learned more about how drivers use the voice-recognition system and have continuously refined it so customers can do more and say more to get their tasks done more quickly and efficiently,” Brigitte Richardson, Ford’s global voice control technology and speech systems lead engineer, said in a statement. 

Ford research shows that acceptance among owners of voice recognition continues to grow, with more than 85 percent now using voice control while driving. That’s up from 70 percent in an earlier study conducted in the fall.

“Nuance is continuously evolving its voice technology to provide drivers with a more natural and conversational interface,” Vlad Sejnoha, chief technology officer at Nuance, said in a statement. “By combining our advanced voice recognition capabilities with intent and language understanding, we’re not only able to hear what drivers are saying, but better understand what they are looking to accomplish, be it listen to songs by Train or change the temperature to 75 degrees.”

While work with intent algorithms continues in the Ford and Nuance research labs, Ford is temporarily addressing situations where driver requests were not understood by endowing SYNC with an Operator Assist function that lets users instantly connect with a live person for help getting directions or finding a business. It is in beta testing as a complimentary feature for registered users of SYNC Services. Cloud-based, on-demand, voice-activated SYNC Services provides access to information on traffic, news, sports, weather, horoscopes, stock quotes, and movie listings, along with business searches and turn-by-turn directions.

If a user says an address or business that the automated system can’t identify, the user will be prompted with the option to connect to a live operator. When an operator assists with a business search, the user can choose to receive turn-by-turn directions; a text message with the name, address, and phone number; or simply the phone number.

The live operator services are provided by MyAssist, a live assistance and telematics service company based in Stevens Point, Wis.

Nuance continues to work with other car makers and navigation systems vendors to advance its automotive business. Besides Ford, Nuance systems are in use in some car models produced by Audi, BMW, Fiat, Hyundai/Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Porsche, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Renault, and Volkswagen and in navigation systems from Becker, Blaupunkt, Falk, Kapsys, Medion, Mio, Navigon, and TomTom. In mid-July, Nuance inked a deal with General Motors’ OnStar division to provide the voice recognition and text-to-speech technologies for the OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle) rearview mirror.

OnStar FMV is being sold at consumer electronics retailers at a suggested retail price of $299. A range of service plans is available starting at $18.95 a month or $199 a year.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.


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