Ford Sync gets a Nuance update

The Ford Sync system, which is based on Windows Embedded Automotive (at root Windows CE 6.0) has seen an update which integrates Nuance technology, expanding the vocabulary of the voice driven system from 100 to 10 000 words, and adding more natural language commands.

"Ford is committed to making voice recognition the primary user interface inside of the car because it allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel," said Jim Buczkowski, director of Ford electronics and electrical systems engineering. "The improvements we’ve made will make it easier for drivers to use and interact with it, even those customers that have never used voice recognition before."

"With this latest generation of SYNC, users can control the system without having to learn nearly as many commands or navigate as many menus," said Brigitte Richardson, Ford global voice control technology and speech systems lead engineer. "As we’ve gained processing power and learned more about how drivers use the system, we’ve been able to refine the interface. Customers can do more and say more from the top-level menu, helping them accomplish their tasks more quickly and efficiently."

Examples of some improvements to SYNC powering MyFord Touch-equipped vehicles include:

More direct, first-level commands
* "Call John Smith" dials the phone number associated with John in a connected phone’s phonebook directly – the user isn’t required to say "Phone" first
* Direct commands related to destinations, like "Find a shoe store" or "Find a hotel," place users in the navigation system menu where they will be walked through the POI search process
* The command, "Add a phone," will enter the phone pairing menu and walk users through the connection process – users don’t have to enter a phone submenu to initiate the pairing process
Quicker, easier entry and search
* Navigation entries can be spoken as a single one-shot command; for example, "One American Road, Dearborn," instead of requiring individual city, street and building number entries
* Brand names are recognized by the navigation POI menu, allowing drivers to look for chain restaurants, shoe stores, department stores and more, as well as regional and local favorites
* Direct tuning of radio stations by simply saying "AM 1270" or "FM 101.1," or using SIRIUS station names or numbers such as "21" or "Alt-Nation"
Use of aliases
* Within the climate menu, users can voice-request the same function using several different phrases, such as "Warmer," "Increase temperature" or "Temperature up" – helping reduce the need for drivers to learn specific commands
* When requesting a specific song from an MP3 player, users can now say "Play song

" in addition to saying "Play track

Personalized access
* If an occupant’s USB-connected device, such as an MP3 player, has been named, users can simply say the device name, such as "John Smith’s iPod," rather than the less personal "USB" command .

More friendly and adaptable
Ford voice engineers refined SYNC beginning with the two features customers interact with first: the voice recognition system and Samantha, the digital voice behind system commands.
To help SYNC react to driver commands more quickly and accurately, the team integrated Nuance’s Unsupervised Speaker Adaptation (USA) technology. USA learns the voice of a driver within the first three voice commands, quickly creating a user profile and adapting to tone, inflection and even dialect for a 50 percent improvement in recognition performance. USA then continues to learn during that same trip, even picking out another user and creating a second profile if the voice is markedly different. Currently SYNC can actively adapt to voices in English, French-Canadian and Mexican-Spanish – with more languages on tap.

"The power of the SYNC voice control system is its ability to understand and respond to more natural language commands – and the advanced adaptability of the speech recognition technology enables the system to train itself with each successive use," said Michael Thompson, senior vice president and general manager, Nuance Mobile. "The adaptability of SYNC is pretty remarkable – a feature functionality Nuance and Ford worked hard to develop to ensure seamless customer interaction with the system every time it starts up. So even if the car owner has a cold or someone borrows the car, SYNC will adapt to the changed voice and process spoken commands without missing a beat."

Initial interactions also involve Samantha, the "voice" of SYNC. In an attempt to help Samantha sound less computerized, Ford boosted the size of her speech profile approximately fivefold. The additional speech units will help Samantha speak in a smoother, more human voice as she helps vehicle occupants accomplish their in-car tasks such as making phone calls, playing songs from a connected digital device and getting directions.


While Ford would rather keep Microsoft’s profile rather low in the Sync system, we know the integration is largely Microsoft’s work, and hope to see similar functionality in future versions of Windows Phone 7 also.


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