Speech technology specialist Nuance Communications Inc. is working on system that will let drivers send a text message without taking their hands off the steering wheel or their eyes off the road. One of the aims of text-message dictation technology is to reduce the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers. It is just one of the new technologies the U.S. company's automotive division is developing. Arnd Weil, general manager of the division, says the company's goal to equip cars with speech technology systems that ask the driver, “How can I help you?” He discussed this and other future advancements during a recent interview in Munich with Automotive News Europe Web Editors Douglas A. Bolduc and Paul McVeigh.
Safer in-car texting 2 years away, Nuance exec says
SMS (short message service) input will take more time. We have the technology working as part of our dictation software programs so prototypes already are being tested. I would not be surprised if something is in production in 2011 or 2012.
Nuance Communications Inc. is a leading provider of speech and imaging solutions. The publicly traded company, which is based in Burlington, Massachusetts, reported a net profit of $228 million on sales of $1.01 billion in its fiscal year that ended September 30. The company does not provide a financial break down of its different divisions. Nuance's automotive unit's customers include leading global suppliers such as Robert Bosch GmbH and Denso Corp. Its products are in more than 10 million cars ranging from premium brands such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW to mass-market makers such as Ford and Fiat.
Nuance's main focus in 2007 and 2008 was on investigating and eliminating driver distraction. This focus came after the results of one of our studies that quantified the impact that phone, navigation and iPod use have on the reaction time and driving behavior. If you are using an iPod while driving it is only a matter of time before you have an accident and with texting it is even worse.
People will want more functionality in the car. They want entertainment, navigation and more overall content. They don't just want to program in a street address, they want to give the name of a restaurant and ask the system to find the nearest, cheapest parking lot and perhaps find a fuel station along the way that has the cheapest prices. Not only do we want to be able to offer all that but, we want to offer it without forcing the driver to know a bunch of specific commands. In the future you should be able to get into the car and have it ask you, 'How can I help you?' The car has to adapt to the driver and not the driver to the car. It is already in development. You will see more and more of it every year.
The carmakers are more aggressively looking into it, but it will take them longer to get it into the car. The makers of PNDs are being slowed by the economic downturn. It will be a tight race. Ultimately, we want both of them to win and to provide a safer and more compelling user experience.
We still need a Tier 1 partner to get into the cars but more than ever we are engaging with the OEMs. The HMI (human-machine interface) has been taken back by the automaker. Speech technology is a critical part of this HMI. Only the OEMs themselves can tell us what functionality they want and expect in three to five years. We are in a process of entering into direct business relationship with the automakers.
We're taking embedded systems and shrinking them down into smaller applications so they can be used in cars. Even premium automakers are looking for low-cost solutions. The premium automakers are typically more advanced (when it comes to offering speech technology) but not always, an example is Ford with its Sync system in the United States. We see Ford as one of the most aggressive players in the field of speech technology. But, indeed, we are competing for resources with the others that need software space and power in the cars, such as 3-D navigation systems.
There was no microphone built into their devices. It took them about two years to change the hardware and add the microphone.