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Kia unveils voice-driven auto infotainment system

Powered by Microsoft software, Kia's new in-car communications and entertainment system can be driven by voice as well as by touch.

Certain Kia car owners will soon be able to play music and make phone calls, all by just the sound of their voice.

Kia Motors' new infotainment system "Uvo powered by Microsoft" will let car owners access its key features by voice as well as by touch. With an assist from Microsoft speech technology and an embedded version of Windows, Uvo will help drivers and passengers make and answer phone calls, respond to text messages, and play music from different sources, said Kia.

Using Microsoft's voice recognition, car owners will be able to direct the system by issuing short voice commands rather searching through complex menus, said Kia. Drivers and passengers can scroll through their music lists and phone books by voice or via the touch screen.

For greater accuracy, speech recognition profiles can be created and trained for two different voices from among a variety of languages. The system can even respond to questions, such as "What's playing?" so that drivers don't have to fumble or take their eyes off the road.

Uvo itself (reportedly named as a shortened version of "your voice") sports a 4.3-inch, full-color screen that can display music and media content, phone book names, and important car information, said Kia. The screen also transforms into a rear-view camera to help the driver navigate in reverse. Uvo is compatible with several brands of mobile phones and digital music players, so different devices can be paired.

"Uvo powered by Microsoft is a breakthrough for in-vehicle infotainment that helps allow drivers and passengers to safely and easily use all of their personal technologies to create personalized in-vehicle communications and entertainment experiences," said Michael Sprague, Kia's vice president of marketing, in a statement.

Uvo will make its public debut at this week's CES in Las Vegas where booths for both Kia Motors and Microsoft will offer demos of the device. The service will appear in cars this summer in the 2011 Sorento CUV and then expand to other vehicles as the technology develops.

Kia's Uvo joins the road with similar infotainment systems, such as Ford's Sync, which also uses voice recognition. Like Uvo, Ford's Sync is driven by Microsoft software. Kia's sister company Hyundai also offers a system with Microsoft software that lets you place a phone call by speaking a person's name.