LONDON - Visteon's prototype voice-activated control system responds to 35 verbal commands, in English. Visteon is demonstrating the system to potential industry customers worldwide with a fleet of 60 Lincoln Continentals.
The 35 verbal commands include 11 for the radio, four for the tape player, five for the CD player, 10 for the car phone and five for climate control.
A button on the steering wheel tells the system's 'ear' to listen. A thumbnail-sized woven-wire microphone mounted on the steering wheel serves both the control system and the car's telephone. An LCD system reflected onto the instrument panel registers the message, and an electronic voice repeats the driver's command. The voice - which is masculine - can be switched off.
The system is programmed to respond to US and European versions of English. It incorporates adaptive algorithms to allow it to understand regional accents and out-of-dialect speech.
Visteon is using the system to open doors. The system will be priced between $150 and $200, said Hakan Kostepen, Visteon's voice technology manager. He said the price is modest 'because our ability to show manufacturers what else we can do for them is more important than the technology itself.'
His team of demonstrators has been in Europe for several months.
'Some of the OEMs are so eager that we have to hold them back,'
he said. 'We have to remind them that this is not a plug-in-and-play system.'
The system must be tuned to the individual vehicle's noise environment, and the controls must be designed into the steering wheel and dashboard, which involves business and technical partnerships between Visteon and each of its customers.
Visteon has set no volume targets at this early stage, Kostepen said.
There will be stand-alone and integrated product options and flexible software and system architectures, Kostepen said. Visteon recommends that voice recognition should not be marketed separately but as part of an information technology package.
'It might well carry the carmaker's own brand name,' Kostepen said, 'but we are prepared to say to them, 1/8If you are successful, we are successful.'
'We want our customers to be successful five and 10 years down the line, so we are very careful how we treat them now.'
From the customer's point of view, the objective is to make the technology acceptable and easy to use. Safety is a major selling point. Voice activation allows the driver to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while changing radio stations or making phone calls.
A second-generation system with voice activation fully integrated into entertainment, communication and navigation systems and an in-car personal computer is under development for model year 2001, Kostepen said.
It will have a vocabulary of up to 30,000 words and will automatically respond not only to different English speech rhythms but also to German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. 'Theoretically we can program in any language,' Kostepen said. Target price to OEMs for this system is $250-$300.
In the longer term, Kostepen forecasts, voice activation will extend to most non-safety functions like resetting the clock, changing the position of mirrors, releasing hood and truck lids, activating windows and door locks, adjusting the steering wheel and pedal positions and controlling interior lighting.