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Hands-On With Nuance's Voice Recognition

SYNC With MyFord Touch: Automotive Infotainment For All
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Ford uses Nuance for its speech recognition and text-to-speech features. This is the same engine that powers Apple’s Siri and Dragon Naturally Speaking. According to Ford, there are 10 000 commands available, all of which are listed deep in the system's options. Everything connected to SYNC with MyFord Touch can be controlled by voice commands: navigation, phone, music, and even climate controls. Traversing the system using voice control takes some time to get used to. But once you learn the most relevant commands, navigation works quite well.

Voice-activated navigation controls rise to the top as the most useful component of Nuance's voice recognition engine, since SYNC with MyFord Touch does not accept user input via touch-screen when the car is moving, even if it's a passenger trying to put in an address. One-shot navigation destination entry is supported, but you really have to remember to say the entire string of commands.

In our testing, we found that starting the destination input with “Navigation Destination POI” or “Navigation Destination Address” and following the prompts was the easiest way to issue voice commands. SYNC with MyFord Touch provides feedback, asking how you want to search for a POI (by category or name) or walk you through the prompts to input an address (house number, street name, city); it's very intuitive.

The accuracy of voice-based navigation input was generally quite good. We did come across a couple of problems searching for Asian shop names (such as Uwajiymaya, an Asian supermarket). But the speech recognition engine had no trouble with Todai (a sushi buffet). We naturally expected the system to stumble over more obscure names, but it was still fun to try.

When you can’t search POIs or input directions via the touch-screen, SYNC with MyFord Touch’s voice recognition is quite functional. After a couple of days using SYNC, we ended up favoring voice controls for navigation.

Using voice commands for hands-free calling works as well as it did for controlling the navigation system, so long as your name isn't Chris Angelini, which it refused to recognize as a valid contact. It was faster for us to scroll through the phone book to call our editor-in-chief than it was to fight one of SYNC's few idiosyncrasies. Oddly enough, it found “Kami Huynh” on the first try.

Although we ended up preferring voice commands for controlling the navigation and making phone calls, climate control and entertainment aren't as easily directed. Voice commands for climate control do work, but every time you hit the speech button to start voice recognition, you have to state “Climate Control,” and then “Set temperature xx degrees.” You can’t string the commands together to speed the process up. We’re not quite sure why anyone would use voice commands for climate control anyway, since the physical controls are within closer reach.

Commands for the entertainment subsystem suffer a similar pitfall. You have to name your device first (USB, Radio, Sirius, CD, and so on) before being able to tell SYNC what to do. Moreover, if you want to browse your music by album title, you can use voice commands up until you get to the album selection screen. Then SYNC tells you to pick an album using the touch-screen. To be fair, voice commands were at least accurate when we used them. SYNC had no trouble pulling up artists like N.E.R.D. and Lil’ Jon. The system also managed to play “Get Low” via voice command.

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