DETROIT -- As customers demand more complex onboard vehicle technology, companies are searching for the best ways to meet that demand as safely as possible.
A particularly difficult challenge for engineers: balancing performance and top-notch accuracy in voice-recognition systems.
Consumers "want text message dictation more than anything," said Brigitte Richardson, lead engineer for Ford Motor Co.'s speech systems. "But with current dictation, there's a lot of need for correction. We have to balance the need for correction with distraction because we don't want our product to be distracting."
Automakers have been whipsawed in recent years between technology demands from consumers and safety pressures from regulators to avoid installation of systems that can distract drivers.
In January, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said distracted driving will be at the top of his agenda. "We will not be deterred by false choices about addressing distracted driving on the one hand and alternative critical safety issues on the other," he said.
Richardson was not alone in her concerns Monday as she and a panel of three other experts -- including representatives from Pandora Internet radio, speech and imaging solutions company Nuance and smart technology developer Gracenote -- shared their struggles in implementing on-demand technology.
"People want to continue on with their lives in their car but how do you create a user experience that's the same as home?" said Vadim Brenner, vice president of product management for Gracenote, said at the Nuance Automotive Forum Detroit. "It's important not to forget that in the car you want to create an experience that's unique.
"We're a connected society. So when you have a car that you can't always do the same things you can at home, there is some level of disappointment."
Richardson agreed, noting the importance of accurate speech recognition in creating such technology.
"We want to make sure when a customer is asking for something [in the car] we can understand exactly what it is they're asking for," Richardson said.
Most panelists agreed that the best way to advance such technologies is to adapt to what smartphones are doing.
"We've leveraged the smartphone as the vehicle to get into the vehicle," said Geoff Snyder, director of automotive business development at Pandora. "We've addressed part of the issue to build intelligence in our applications, but we'll continue working on the intelligence side of things going forward."
Most of the technologies the panel discussed -- including in-car communication, speech dictation and an on-demand music system -- remain in their infancy.
But Ed Chrumka, senior project manager of the connected car at Nuance, said consumers may see some implementation of new voice-recognition software late next year.
Prices of such high-tech software would likely vary by manufacturer, said Lars Koening, a product manager for Nuance.