Remember Fiat Blue&Me -- the Windows-powered entertainment system for your car? Well Kia's been busy working with Microsoft to produce a similar system, known as 'UVO', which apparently stands for 'your voice'.
Like Blue&Me, it's based on the Microsoft Auto software platform. Unlike its rival, however, UVO incorporates full Microsoft speech-engine technology, so users can control almost all of its features -- access music, control the radio, make and answer phone calls, and dictate and hear text messages -- with their voice.
We had the chance to play with UVO in a 2011 Kia Sorento, and the system's performance was impressive, if a little unreliable. It understood perfectly when we asked it to tune the radio to a specific frequency or preset, it read aloud incoming text messages with aplomb, and it even obliged when we asked for a specific song that we'd ripped from a CD to its built-in 1GB hard drive (a USB port is present for storage upgrades). It occasionally failed, however, to understand even basic menu-navigation requests, which led us to abandon our efforts with the text-dictation feature. Basically, it works, but it can be frustrating and isn't the sort of thing you want in your car if you suffer from road rage.
Despite our disappointing initial experience, we'll give UVO the benefit of the doubt until we get some private face-time with it. It is, in theory, a very good system, and we suspect a loud show floor at CES 2010 wasn't the best place for Kia to demonstrate voice-command features.
UVO will debut this summer in the 2011 Kia Sorento. Watch out for a hands-on demo in our Car Tech section soon, and click 'Continue' for some more photos of UVO.
The Sorento is an interesting-looking vehicle. Actually, that's a kind way of saying it fell out of the ugly tree and the bark scraped most of its face off on the way down.
Thankfully, the UVO system is more pleasant to look at. Press the voice-command button on the steering wheel and you can tell it what track you want to play, or, if one's already playing, ask it to tell you the exact track name.
The microphone lives above the head of the driver. This should minimise the chances of outside interference from passengers and other sources, but, in our test, this didn't prove to be the case.
Here's the main menu. From here, you can ask UVO to dial a number, select a contact in your phonebook, read or dictate a text message, and more.
The Sorento doesn't look so bad from the back. Perhaps if you reverse everywhere you'll make a better impression.