This week's inauguration of "hands-free" cell phone use for drivers in California and Washington focuses attention on the spread of voice recognition technology for mobile phones.
With Yahoo preparing to add voice-enabled search to its mobile platform this summer and with more voice recognition features offered all the time for individual cell phone owners, drivers are increasingly being offered a broad array of new speech recognition features.
Driver distraction problems are behind much of the move to speech-enabled phones as the technology moves beyond voice activated dialing to cover texting and voice access to music, weather and sports updates.
Michael Wehrs, a vice president at Nuance Communications, points to a Nuance study currently underway that tests the use of speech recognition systems on drivers.
"The results clearly show that drivers' skills are far less impacted when they use speech recognition systems than when they take their eyes off the road to interact with their devices," Wehrs said in an e-mail. "In conversations with carriers where we have shared the study results, they all express optimism that including speech recognition will help ensure their customers can continue to safely use their mobile devices."
Noting that Nuance speech technology will ship on more than 200 mobile phones this year, Wehrs indicates the technology is just beginning to take off and is likely to pick up momentum as more and more states and municipalities introduce hands-free phoning requirements for drivers.
Voice activated dialing is still the major speech application, Wehrs said, adding that future applications include "more comprehensive speech support for command and control and network feature access is shipping on BlackBerry devices from Sprint and Rogers." Sprint's hot-selling Samsung Instinct phone uses Nuance speech technology.
As smart phones become more prevalent, drivers are going to want to take advantage of their features while on the road, but still generating more predictions of driver distraction. Citing recent driver studies, Wehrs said drivers fumbling with MP3 players in their cars took more than two times longer to carry our lane changes when selecting music manually versus a simple voice command picking the artist and song title. And, in navigation commands the studies demonstrate that a speech destination entry resulted in a one thousand percent diminished swerving of drivers' cars.
Carriers are using voice recognition technology from several different sources -- some home-grown, others by independent vendors. Microsoft has been using its Tellme technology acquired in an acquisition.
An offering by newcomer Vlingo and its easy-to-use FIND technology has been catching on with individual drivers and some carriers.