"Our system allows you to recognize who is talking," Kanevsky says. "It can have a speech model of every passenger, so it will know who is talking - husband or wife."
IBM doesn't intend to market Artificial Passenger directly to drivers. Top-tier suppliers and automakers have requested prototype information on the system. The company expects the technology could be introduced within the next five years as part of a telematics module supplied by a major integrator, says Raj Desai, IBM's director for global telematics solutions.
IBM would not discuss development costs for the technology. IBM spokeswoman Georgina Jesberg says IBM has made automotive telematics a major focus for research investment and that Artificial Passenger costs would be virtually impossible to separate from that overall investment. Practical voice-recognition systems are relatively new in the automotive industry.
Analyst Aldo Morri, of Strategis Group (strategisgroup.com) in Washington, says that of the companies working on voice applications for the auto industry, IBM and BeVocal (bevocal.com) are the two biggest players.
IBM's size makes it the powerhouse. Delphi (delphi.com) chose IBM's virtual machine environment for its multimedia products. DaimlerChrysler (daimlerchrysler.com) is using IBM ViaVoice embedded speech-recognition software as part of its U-Connect telematics system.
IBM telematics partners include Motorola Inc. (motorola.com) as well as ATX Technologies Inc. (atxtechnologies.com), and it supplies Audi and BMW's North American unit.
Not everyone shares the researchers' conviction that technology will be able to compensate for driver drowsiness.
Though it has no research on the number of accidents that are caused by sleepy drivers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said it fears such technology could instill a false sense of security in drivers.
"We're concerned about these warning devices potentially having the opposite effect of how they're intended," says spokesman Russ Rader. "We're concerned they could lead tired drivers to push themselves to drive even longer, thinking they have a gadget that's going to prevent them from falling asleep."
The per-car cost of an invention such as Artificial Passenger probably will be negligible and may never be identified directly to car buyers.
Instead, the invention most likely will be bundled as part of a diverse telematics package that characterizes a vehicle or brand.
It's unlikely that the system will have even a physical logo or other identifying mark.
Says Desai: "The best technology is something you don't even know is there."
Tim Moran is a Detroit-area free-lance writer. He can be reached at