IBM, Pioneer steer hands-free GPS system

Big Blue software will appear in new navigation systems that let drivers keep their hands where they should be. Photos: IBM at the wheel

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
IBM has licensed voice recognition software to Pioneer Europe for use in hands-free GPS navigation systems that allow drivers to keep their hands on their steering wheels.

The Embedded ViaVoice software, developed in IBM Research Labs, can understand a total of 14 languages, and has previously been used in smart phones, personal digital assistants and other automobile systems. Pioneer will be using the technology in its new AVIC-HD1BT console, which was released Wednesday and can be installed on the dashboard of most cars. Separate models of the AVIC, which stands for "Audio, Video, Information and Communication" have been created for Europe and North America.


GPS navigation is rapidly expanding, moving into various new niches--some of them, such as services that track the location of kids, controversial. IBM is hoping the spread of its Embedded ViaVoice software in Pioneer's AVIC-HD1BT will make hands-free, voice-activated GPS more widespread in the mainstream automobile market rather than solely the domain of luxury cars. Nevertheless, the $2,250 price tag could be a burden for many drivers.

Pioneer has promoted its new GPS system as the automotive equivalent of a home entertainment center: In addition to a satellite navigation system powered by Tele Atlas, the device can automatically rip CDs to its 10GB hard drive and identify them through the Gracenote CD database. There's a geographic database containing business listings--a total of 3.7 million in the European version--like gas stations, ATMs and restaurants. AVIC users with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones can also synchronize their handsets to the console and then use the voice recognition software to tell the system who to call.

Consequently, drivers with an AVIC-HD1BT can tell their cars to navigate them to the nearest pizzeria, play some Bruce Springsteen and call home. Whether it will get all those things right, of course, has yet to be determined.