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DEARBORN, MICH. — One of the more advanced car audio systems to debut this fall will not come from the aftermarket, but from Ford, when it delivers the new Sync voice recognition system that was first announced in January.
Sync employs voice recognition to access and control all the songs in a music cellphone, iPod, Zune or PlaysForSure MP3 player and flash drive.
What is also unique about Sync, which was developed jointly with Microsoft, is that it is not reserved for luxury vehicles but will be offered on about half of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models this year, including entry-level models, and nearly all models in 2008. It is expected to carry a price below $500.
The Sync is actually a black box that links with just about any 2008 Ford radio with a CD player. Through voice control it will read aloud text messages from a cellphone and will allow users to state commands such as "Play genre rock," "Play U2," and "Play Vertigo" to control their MP3 player or cellphone. The system connects to a device either through a USB cable or Bluetooth.
Ford claims the voice recognition is instant and does not require the user to "teach" the system commands.
"Up to now, voice recognition has been a gimmick in cars. It was used to seek to the next station or to turn up the volume, when it was probably easier to just use the volume knob," said Ford infotainment systems manager, Gary Jablonski, adding, "It was a price of entry in luxury cars, where you had to be able to advertise that you had voice recognition, so everyone did."
In the past few years, the capability of voice recognition has evolved from a vocabulary of perhaps 100 words to 10,000 words, said Jablonski. Now you can "match the contents of your iPod or phone book or name the street you are trying to enter in a navigation system. So now, it's no longer a gimmick," he said.
Ford said the system is a result of a company-wide effort to make entertainment, communication and information technology "part of our brand DNA. We want our customers when they think of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury to expect they will have the latest technology in their vehicle," Jablonski said.
Ford also claims that Sync will allow it to stay ahead of the technology curve in the future. Sync is basically a computer running a version of Windows called Windows Auto, so the software can be upgraded. "So our ability to keep pace with the consumer electronics market has improved now because our ability to speed products to market is better. Over time our intention is to … interface with new consumer devices," Jablonski added.
One new capability might be e-mail. Sync already has that ability, as it is can "read" aloud text messages. But Jablonski says Ford research shows that consumers aren't interested in hearing their e-mail if they can't respond to it. For that, dictation technology is required. "Dictation technology is only just becoming practical in the office environment, but is not reliable in the automotive environment. Also, in the office you are able to proofread, but in the car you can't be reading while driving. So the dictation is going to have to be flawless."
Ford is also examining connectivity beyond the car through technology such as Wi-Fi.