Market Spotlight: Automotive -- Voice Fuels the Car's Future

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We’re not likely to see Michael Knight and his talking supercar KITT cruising the highways anytime soon, but by 2013, people  speaking to their cars will be commonplace.

Many drivers are already using voice commands to control in-car entertainment, communications, and navigation systems, with continued momentum expected. And other opportunities will soon exist for voice control of windows, lights, cruise control, climate settings, and more. There is even a market developing for wireless automotive systems that can read email or text messages and allow drivers to vocally respond.

"We expect significant opportunities and strong growth in automotive voice control applications," Kevin Mak, an analyst in the automotive practice group of Strategy Analytics, wrote in a recent report. "While there are greater volumes to be had in voice-enabling portable music devices and content in the vehicle...far higher margins can be found in widening the [human/machine interface] applications that can be voice-enabled, particularly for SMS messaging or operating ventilation systems and electric windows."

Strategy Analytics expects the automotive voice technology market to hit $6.5 billion by 2013, nearly 33 percent higher than the $4.4 billion it reached in 2005. And in five years, 78 million units will be sold, far exceeding the 22.8 million units shipped in 2005.

Expanding the use of voice in cars has been inhibited largely by price; most systems cost $600 or more. Once an option only for luxury car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Ford has made the most headway in affordable, speech-enabled vehicles. The company installed Microsoft’s Sync (a voice-enabled system that uses technologies from Nuance Communications and CSR) as standard equipment in 12 of its 2008 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models in the United States, and a number of other models available only in Europe.

Among its other predictions, Strategy Analytics expects that by 2013:
• Eighty-five percent of all new cars will have embedded hands-free and voice-enabled communications systems;
• More than half of all new cars will have embedded voice-enabled connectivity for portable music players; and
• Voice-enabled navigation systems will be standard equipment on most cars.

To achieve greater market penetration, manufacturers need to overcome noise from the road, engine, and inside the car and make systems speaker-independent and multilingual. "Because the [automotive industry] is so global, we’ll need systems that work everywhere, and they have to be easy for the customer to use," says Mark Fitzgerald, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics.

But for now, "voice still needs work in the automotive industry," Fitzgerald concludes. "The automobile is definitely a different environment, but we’ve certainly made great strides with the telephone."

With the right balance of innovation, ease of use, and cost, optimization for speech in the automotive space could become more than just statistical estimates.

Driving Forces in Automotive Speech

According to Strategy Analytics, key players in the speech industry expected to maintain strong market position in the automotive arena are:
• Acapela Group
• Andrea Electronics
• Asahi Kasei
• Denso
• Fonix
• Fortemedia
• Loquendo
• Mitsubishi Electric
• Noise Cancellation Technologies
• Nuance Communications
• Siemens VDO
• Visteon
• VoiceBox
• Wavemakers

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