Dial Directions' Voice-Activated Service Turns a Cell Phone to a GPS Device

San Francisco – Dial Directions today launched the beta version of a voice-activated phone service that enables cell phone users in parts of New York and California to call and ask for driving directions to any address or store destination. The directions are then sent via text message back to the user’s cell phone.

Dial Directions uses proprietary voice user interface, speech recognition, and navigation technologies to power its services. With this service, "anybody can turn their cell phone into a free GPS," Amit Desai, cofounder and chief product officer of Dial Directions, said in a recent press release.

Dial Directions currently operates in Los Angeles, New York, and the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and the company plans over the next few months to extend the service nationwide. While the system components are already largely in place, according to Desai, much of the work now lies in gathering the necessary geographic data for other metropolitan areas.

Simply by dialing the number, users have access to Dial Direction’s two main features: DirectMe, through which users give specific destination addresses or intersections; and NearMe, through which users ask for the location of the nearest chain store, such as a Borders or McDonald’s.  Following a request, the user receives near-instantaneously a text message detailing the driving route.

Other features, such as commute times based on real-time traffic data, and a categorical search through which users might locate more generic gas stations and ATMs, are still in the early development stages.     

But for Desai, the overriding principal that went into developing this technology was its accessibility. "The key thing was its availability, which we make possible by making (the service) free, and just a phone number," Desai says. "We’re [potentially] going to 200 million people, so that’s particularly important. Right now, the industry is steering everybody into more complicated stuff. People just want something simpler…There’s nothing simpler than a phone call."

Another important aspect for the developers was to eliminate any learning curve and to make the VUI intuitive so that anybody can access directions simply by speaking.

The final part of maintaining Dial Direction’s ease-of-use was its accuracy. The service is swift to pick up on errors.  For instance, if the user believes he is in San Francisco but is in fact in Daly City the system can recognize the mistake and still send proper directions.  

Dial Direct "can help callers in any situation," Desai says. "That’s partly the voice interface, it’s partly the speech recognition, where we had some pretty big advances on that, and it’s partly the navigation side: the raw, geographic data that we take."  

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