Ford Says Voice is the New Touch

This week Ford invited bloggers and writers from around North America to come check out Ford’s headquarters in Detroit, and to learn about where the company is headed. The 2011 Ford Futuring and Trends Conference has offered us a hands-on look inside Ford, but we have been especially interested in learning about the company’s emerging technologies, and what Ford considers to be a sneak peek into the future.

Ford has explained that connectivity is becoming a major priority for them. To that effect, they see voice as the “new Touch”, or the next big thing. That is because they see the power of voice to make us feel more comfortable with how we interact with technology. Ford’s Sync technology, which is a Voice Control system, lets drivers access the data that they are carrying on devices like smartphones and media players, through their car. So instead of getting distracted on the road and looking down and interacting with your smartphone, Ford drivers can use voice as an interface to bring up data such as music tracks, phone contacts, driving directions and more. This is not only a convenient and natural way to access your data while you’re in a vehicle, but it’s also a much safer alternative to using your smartphone while you’re out on the road.

Ford says that while their competitors are building closed systems, Ford is working hard to develop an open eco-system for their SYNC system. They have done this so that their SYNC platform is always expandable and able to offer choices to customers. Indeed, their latest SYNC system can easily be upgraded by downloading software updates to a USB key. The USB key can then be plugged into the car to run the update on the car’s SYNC system. In particular, their Sync and MyFord Touch Systems use a set of APIs which let other devices like smartphones interact with their vehicles. Specifically, their Sync AppLink brings apps on your smartphone into the car.

The way the Sync system works is simple, all you have to do is Push a button on the wheel and say a command. Furthermore, with Sync’s AppLink technology, you can control apps that are installed on your smartphone. For example, you can access the Pandora app that is installed on your smartphone. You can even skip through tracks and verbally mark them with a “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down”. So far, Pandora, Stitcher, and OpenBeak for Twitter are the first SYNC-enabled apps available for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry.

Ford’s Sync has been around since 2007, and since then they have been actively working to perfect the technology by adding more and more natural commands. In other words, they are moving away from structured commands and are moving onto intent. For example, you can now say “I want to call Mark”, if you want to dial someone or you can say “Play Song” instead of “Play Track”. Today MyFord Touch has 10,000 commands.

Ford has also licensed Nuance communications speech recognition technologies which accounts for accents and dialects in multiple languages. Nuance uses Speaker Adaptation technology which lets the system train itself to automatically learn a person’s speech, it actually automatically adjusts itself to recognize you better each time you talk to it.

Ford’s SYNC service is free for the first years of ownership of a Ford vehicle, and it comes standard with all new Ford cars. The service is also cloud based, but not dependent on having a smartphone data connection. It can also be used to pull up stock quotes, movie listings, 911 Assist, sports updates, horoscopes, flight information, traffic reports based on your location and destination address, weather, and more. But beyond voice, they also see feature and facial recognition becoming a major part of how we interact with technology in our vehicles. It’s all about keeping your eyes on the road, and voice control makes it possible to keep you focused on the road when you’re driving.

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