Speech in the Car Continues to Move

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The ability to update your Facebook profile while driving using the OnStar system in your Chevy, Cadillac, Buick, or GMC vehicle might be around the corner, but more importantly 

OnStar says drivers will be able to use voice commands without compromising their safety because of new improvements made in the ninth generation of OnStar.

In fact, new voice commands are just one component of what OnStar, a subsidiary of GM, is calling a relaunch that focuses on safe connectivity. 

Currently, OnStar is in beta testing for a voice texting application. If implemented, drivers could have messages read to them, and they could respond using a button on the steering wheel and preset voice commands.

OnStar has improved its design with natural voice recognition to be more flexible, says John Kobus, communications manager at OnStar, who adds the system is now smart enough to interpret sentences and phrases without actually hearing the exact commands from the user. “For example, if a subscriber wants to place a call using the Hands-Free Calling system, [he would] simply say, I would like to make a phone call or need to make a phone call instead of saying the exact dial or call commands.”

OnStar also has improved the system’s ability to understand regional dialects, Kobus says. “This means a subscriber in southern Louisiana will be just as easily understood by the OnStar system as a subscriber in Long Island or Minnesota, no matter how thick his or her accent may be,” he explains.

According to Kobus, tests were performed in four languages (English, French, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese) so the system can be used with more than 30 dialects, many vehicle types, and in a wide range of driving and noise conditions. 

Ford also has upgraded the voice capabilities in its cars with the release of the MyFord Touch infotainment system, the latest version of its popular Sync system.

During a recent user evaluation of MyFord Touch in the 2011 Ford Edge, consumers said they were impressed with how easy it was to control the radio and portable music players with speech recognition. Strategy Analytics Automotive Consumer Insights’ recent benchmark report, “MyFord Touch Has Compelling Embedded Voice HMI,” assesses the user experience for entertainment, navigation, and other features of the new MyFord Touch, which brings together speech technologies from Nuance Communications and Microsoft. “MyFord Touch takes the device integration features that have made Sync so cool and streamlines them to encompass navigation, climate control, and audio options, in addition to connecting with your mobile phone, MP3 player, and the Internet.”

“The speech controls in Sync for controlling the radio and connected devices were extremely accurate,” commented Chris Schreiner, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics. “The system also provided helpful tips so that a user may quickly learn to use the system.”

Adds Kevin Nolan, vice president of the Strategy Analytics User Experience Practice: “The quality of the voice interface will have a big impact on consumer acceptance of voice as a way to interact with in-vehicle features and services.” 

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