Ford feature makes it easier to talk to your car

Joining forces with Nuance, Ford enhances voice recognition in its Sync in-car systems. The cars now understand more than 10,000 commands.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Ford drivers who like to talk to their cars might find the conversations a bit smoother with the automaker's next version of its Sync in-car system.

Ford's MyTouch system.
Ford's MyTouch system. Ford

Teaming up with voice-dictation vendor Nuance, Ford announced on Thursday a series of new voice upgrades scheduled to debut with the next generation of its MyFord Touch Sync systems.

Available in the new 2011 Ford Edge, which hits dealers next month, the new Sync systems will allow drivers to more easily issue commands to their cars using natural phrases and a much wider vocabulary than in the current system, said Ford.

The new system will respond to more direct and shorter commands, such as "Call John Smith," "Find ice cream" and "Add a phone," Ford explained, helping drivers express themselves in fewer words. It will also understand more than 10,000 commands, up from only 100 in the first-generation Sync.

The voice of the system, Samantha, has a better "ear," to more accurately recognize speech and will speak back in a smoother, more natural voice.

Together, Ford and Nuance beefed up the Sync's speech engine to add a larger dictionary of possible driver commands, said the automaker. Samantha's new vocabulary lets her listen to and react to voice commands more directly, pick up on different words that mean the same thing, and understand names of local businesses and points of interest.

"With this latest generation of Sync, users can control the system without having to learn nearly as many commands or navigate as many menus," Brigitte Richardson, Ford global voice control technology and speech systems lead engineer, said in a statement. "As we've gained processing power and learned more about how drivers use the system, we've been able to refine the interface. Customers can do more and say more from the top-level menu, helping them accomplish their tasks more quickly and efficiently."

Ford is also touting the new system as a way to improve safety. As more people juggle with mobile gadgets and in-car devices behind the wheel, a hands-free, voice-activated system is one technology that automakers believe can help. Toward that end, the automaker has been enhancing its Sync systems with more features designed to increase safety. It recently added a "Do not disturb" option to let drivers block incoming calls and text messages.

Though new Ford customers will be able to take advantage of the voice recognition enhancements, current customers are out of luck. A Ford spokesperson confirmed that the voice upgrades will only be available on the next generation of Sync and won't be offered on existing Sync-enabled cars.