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7/15/2010
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Ford, Nuance Improve SYNC Voice Recognition

The system can now recognize more than 10,000 commands, up from only 100 in SYNC's first generation system.

In-car voice recognition is taking a giant step forward, according to an announcement Thursday by the Ford Motor Company, which said its SYNC voice recognition system can now recognize more than 10,000 commands - up from only 100 in SYNC's first generation system.

Working with voice control provider Nuance, Ford said drivers can now accomplish more with fewer voice commands. As examples, Ford said SYNC can recognize direct voice commands like "Call John Smith" or "Find Ice Cream". The system will then automatically dial John Smith's phone number and call out the nearest ice cream parlor.

In-car voice recognition systems have been slow to catch on, but as more states outlaw phone texting and as consumers get accustomed to using the systems, more drivers are turning to voice recognition systems. A recent Harris Interactive AutoTECHCAST study found that 35% of respondents favored using voice-activated controls or features in their vehicles -- up from 27% in the previous year. Ford has said that its studies show that more than 60% of its SYNC owners say they utilize voice controls while driving.

"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, in a statement. "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."

Ford and Nuance have upgraded the SYNC speech engine, making it more powerful to enable it to refine the driver interface to make it more friendly and to recognize more commands. Samantha, the "voice" of the SYNC system, has also been improved to make it sound less computerized and more human.

Citing market research studies that predict smartphones will replace PCs and laptops as the chief means of accessing the Web by 2015, Ford and Nuance say they believe the SYNC system is now poised for rapid growth.

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