As those who’ve joined the Sync My Ride generation already know, Ford SYNC may be the ultimate in convergence technology, marrying Internet, voice recognition and voice commands, and, of course, your cell phone, as an integral part of your car. With MyFord Touch – an LCD dashboard screen – coming this year, and with Ford SYNC available in dozens of models of Fords, working with most modern cell phones – the Ford SYNC system is now all grown up. (Want to know the best phone for Ford SYNC? See below!) When Ford SYNC first launched, the system ‘recognized’ about 100 voice commands; this week Ford announced that SYNC in Fords now recognizes more than 10,000 commands – and that’s just ‘first level’ commands, meaning those commands can be combined with other words and phrases.
Some of the vehicles in which Ford SYNC is available include the Ford Edge, Ford Escape, Ford Expedition, Ford Explorer, Ford Fiesta, Ford Flex, Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, Ford Mustang, and the Ford Taurus, and the Mercury Mariner, Milan, Sable and Mountaineer, and the Lincoln Navigator, MKS, MKT, MKZ and MKX.
Ford’s SYNC features include not only the expected hands-free calling, turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic reporting, and an emergency service they call “911 Assist”, but also news, sports, weather, and a music search feature. And it integrates with Sirius radio, and with Pandora! (In fact, Pandora founder Tim Westergren this week said that the car is “the holy grail” of radio.)
And, it will read your Twitter messages out loud! (It reads Twitter messages through a service known as OpenBeak.)
SYNC is actually built on the Microsoft Auto platform, which in turn is based on Windows CE, and has been around for more than 10 years, so it’s not that surprising that Ford’s SYNC system would integrate with things such as music and even Twitter. But it is in voice recognition and voice commands that Ford SYNC has seen some of the greatest advances. In addition to the more than 10,000 first level commands, SYNC’s voice recognition will allow you to tune your radio by voice, and even to say things as fuzzy as “I want to know what gas costs” or “Get me NFL score” and receive a useful response.
Brigitte Richardson, a lead engineer for Ford’s Global Voice Control Technology and Speech Systems division, explains that “Users who aren’t familiar with specific commands can say something like ‘Play some music’ or ‘I’d like to hear some jazz’ and SYNC will realize they want to listen to music. The system will then guide them into the media playback commands to get more specific instructions. The additional recognition should help ease the learning curve for new users and customers who aren’t familiar with the exact command for a feature they don’t often use.”
This advanced voice recognition has improved navigation requests as well, with SYNC now being able to respond to what Ford calls “one-shot” address navigation, where the driver can speak the entire address at once, including city and state, instead of having to give the street address, city, and state separately.
Richardson goes on to explain that “One-shot destination entry is going to make life a lot more convenient for navigation users. Ford has aligned entering a destination with drivers’ natural speech patterns, making it more like dictating an address to a friend.”
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Adds Fields, “It’s only through continuous improvement that Ford will maintain its lead in voice-activated vehicle controls. Making SYNC even more intuitive and easier to use will encourage more drivers to take advantage of its hands-free capabilities, helping them keep their focus on driving.”