Voice recognition in Sync with simplicity

June 23, 2011 // By R. Colin Johnson
Ford Motor Company claims to have tamed voice recognition with the latest version of its Sync technol­ogy by upping the number of com­mands a hundredfold while simplifying their grammar.

Sync technology is used to connect mobile devices, such as smartphones, to an in-­vehicle network that is con­trolled with voice commands. The im­proved Sync now allows any command to be directly spoken and recognized in natural language, whereas with most other voice recognition systems, a speaker must identify the pertinent menu of commands before issuing the desired command.

"We have flattened the hierarchy of the grammar," said electrical engineer Jim Buczkowski, a Henry Ford Technical Fellow and director of global electrical and electronics systems engineering for Ford. “Now there are many more commands at the first level. For instance, instead of saying 'phone' first, then saying who you want to call, now you can just say, 'Call Jim.'"

Ford Sync was co­-developed with Microsoft on the Windows Embedded Automotive software platform and uses voice recognition algorithms licensed from Nuance Communications Inc. The Sync technology was recently integrated with MyFord Touch, which uses a dash-­mounted resistive touchscreen to control vehicle functions.

"We work with many automobile makers, but the Ford Sync system is probably our most sophisticated implementation to date," said Brian Radloff, director of automotive solutions at Nuance. "For instance, on the destination entry side you can now speak an entire address in a single utterance – such as 100 Main St., Detroit, Michigan – instead of having to speak the street number, street name, city and state separately.

"Sync also uses our lat­est algorithms for on­-the-­fly adaptation, so its accuracy increases the more you use it."

Most functions—from tuning the radio to asking for directions or even call­ing 911—can now be con­trolled by touch or voice. The second­-generation Sync also recognizes thou­sands of aliases that make access more convenient for drivers by not requiring them to remember specific commands. For instance, saying "warmer," "increase temperature" or "temperature up" will all bump up the thermometer reading in the cabin. Simplifications to Sync also help drivers control their own mo­bile devices