I have read that Mandarin is harder to learn then English and if so, Microsoft, Ford and Nuance have pushed voice recognition technology to the limits!
Wayne Gerdes - CleanMPG
- April 23, 2012
While truly an American product, the additional languages will offer voice recognition capability in more languages than any other automaker’s voice control solutions.
Ford has enabled its SYNC infotainment system in its New Focus and upcoming EcoSport to speak and understand Mandarin, the most spoken language on the planet.
The Chinese built Focus is the first to feature the SYNC and the first Ford vehicle in the country to have voice recognition in both English and Mandarin.
Originally introduced in North America with three languages, Ford is working with voice technology partner Nuance Communications to expand the reach of SYNC globally with an additional 16 languages, providing voice recognition capability in more languages than any other automaker offering voice control.
Ford is saying a recent survey of the average Chinese mid- to large-size car owners, greater than 60 percent own a smart phone which is of course mandatory for SYNC operation.
SYNC can recognize up to 150 unique voice commands in either Mandarin or English and cope with variations in accents and vocabulary. This allows users to take fewer steps and utilize more conversational commands to control SYNC features, making it easier to access more content by voice.
According to Ford, extensive research went into the development of the Mandarin voice recognition feature, with speech data recorded from about 2,000 people around China representing a variety of accents. They were asked to read paragraphs, give common greetings and recite numbers so that Nuance engineers can isolate the individual phoneme, or the basic unit of speech.
With the hard programming behind them, SYNC should be able to understand accents from Beijing, to Shanghai and every dialect in between. A Beijing customer may add the “er” sound to the end of words vs a Southern Chinese citizen who tends to blur the distinction between consonant sounds like “sh” and “s”. SYNC should have no problems with either.
Nuance’s natural text-to-speech technology is also behind “Samantha”, the female voice of SYNC, providing drivers with a more natural, conversational experience with their Ford vehicle.
Ford’s open platform is powered by Microsoft and can be a stand out stand for ease of use although in practice, sometimes it can be a bit cumbersome.
A new or possibly old feature I did not know about is the ability to continue a mobile phone conversation from the hand held and then through SYNC without having to hang up. That is cool!
SYNC can also recognize your preset ringtone from supported phones and play it when a call comes in.
When connected to a compatible smartphone, SYNC can even retrieve text messages and read them aloud, including popular abbreviations and emoticons such as "LOL" (laugh out loud) and
(smiley big smile). Using voice activation, the driver can also send a reply from a predetermined list of 15 responses while on the move. I have never used this feature but would like to try it sometime in the future.
SYNC also allows control over portable media players and USB storage devices. Users can browse their music collection by genre, album, artist, playlist or song title using voice commands. SYNC can even put together a playlist of the music the driver is in the mood for with the “Play similar” command or inform the driver of the song that is currently playing with the “What’s this?” command. The SYNC USB port also simultaneously charges the player as the music is being played.
In China, over 70 percent of smartphone owners have instant messaging, music and search applications, or apps, on their phone. When paired with a compatible phone, SYNC also supports Baidu Ting and QQ Music, so that the driver can listen to their favorites on these popular music apps.
Additionally, SYNC can wirelessly stream the user’s music collection on the mobile phone via Bluetooth. All music played through SYNC is high-resolution digital quality.
An area where Ford has gotten into trouble over the past 18 plus months is MyFord Touch. First introduced in China on the Ford Edge two years ago, SYNC with MyFord Touch will also be available on the all-new Ford Kuga and the Ford Explorer.
This driver connected technology includes simplified voice recognition command structure allowing more tasks to be completed using fewer words thanks to a vocabulary of more than 10,000 commands. Unfortunately lockups, inability to perform certain convenience functions like turning on the heat or A/C, slow response times and inability for the system to understand simple spoken messages have plagued the first iterations of MyFord Touch. Let us hope it’s a bit better today.