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From Nuance, Siri in your next car

Nuance's Dragon Drive enables automotive manufacturers to offer natural language voice commands for vehicle telematics, which will enhance usability and could reduce distracted driving.

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
3 min read

If you find yourself with Siri envy but don't want to pony up the $600 for a phone, you may be able to get that same level of convenience and computerized companionship in your car.

Nuance's technology powers Apple's voice-recognition system, and the company is making its natural language command platform available to automotive manufacturers with Dragon Drive. Vehicles equipped with Dragon Drive will enable drivers to use spoken commands to get the system to perform a range of tasks, including open-ended conversational text messaging, getting directions to restaurants, or finding traffic information.

The benefit of Dragon Drive's natural language technology is the elimination gateway commands and command trees. With natural spoken queries, you no longer need to say 15 different keywords just to get directions to the airport like you need to do with many current infotainment systems, and you won't struggle to remember the exact word combination to change the radio station. Just tell it what you want it to do, and the system will figure it out. Dragon Drive will function similarly to what's offered with Siri and Nuance's Dragon Go app, but perhaps even better.

Like Apple's Siri, Dragon Drive can find almost anything you ask.
Like Apple's Siri, Dragon Drive can find almost anything you ask. Nuance

Right now, if you have an iPhone 4S or a phone equipped with the free Dragon Go app, you need to physically interact with the phone to use the voice command service. Dragon Drive will embed the voice-recognition technology in the vehicle, so all drivers will need to do is press a button on the steering wheel to activate the system.

Mike Thompson, executive vice president and general manager of Nuance Mobile, says that with its multiple telco grade facilities around the world, the company doesn't expect system latency problems that you may experience when trying to use Siri. Whereas Siri and Dragon Go process voice commands entirely in the cloud, Dragon Drive is a hybrid system. Onboard software processes some spoken commands locally in the vehicle, and cleans them up before sending them to the cloud-based back end system for analysis and then back to the car for confirmation.

Dragon Drive learns the speaker's voice patterns over time, and its language models take into account car noises, such as driving on rough pavement and windshield wipers in the background to provide greater accuracy. And each time the user calls the system, Dragon Drive adds that historical data to the vehicle's audio profile to help it adapt to speech under different driving conditions. That continuous learning will make easier for it to understand what you're saying the next time you call the system with the windows rolled down.

Another benefit of Dragon Drive is that it can be implemented by manufacturers to use a mobile phone's Internet connection or the vehicle's SIM card. And since the technology is embedded in the vehicle's head unit, it won't matter what type of handset you're using. That means natural language voice-recognition technology for all mobile users -- as long as you're in your car.

And that's the point of Dragon Drive. By making voice commands easy to use in the car, the technology will allow drivers to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, and hopefully cut down on distracted driving.

Many manufacturers, such as BMW, Daimler, and GM already use Nuance to power its voice commands system. Perhaps the most famous in-vehicle application of Nuance is Ford Sync and My Ford Touch, which offers a library of 10,000 voice commands to perform telematics operations. Ford's offboard Sync Services is powered by Microsoft TellMe.

Although Nuance won't say how many manufacturers or models have already opted to implement their new Dragon Drive technology, Thompson said that consumers will begin seeing the offering in new models starting this summer. Mercedes has already announced that it will integrate iPhone's Siri integration in its upcoming A-Class vehicle using its Drive Kit Plus and Digital DriveStyle App.