The voice recognition software that has made the Apple iPhone 4 such a big hit is finding its way into automotive infotainment.
Nuance Communications, the company that developed some of the voice technology used in Apple's Siri software, is working with Ford Motor Co. and General Motors to enable motorists to use conversational commands.
The key is an algorithm that enables the computer to determine the speaker's intent. If a motorist asks, "Is it raining in Miami?" Siri assumes the questioner wants a weather report.
If the vehicle's infotainment system can determine intent, motorists can use conversational language to operate their infotainment systems.
Most voice recognition in vehicles requires drivers to memorize a list of commands to operate their cell phones, navigation systems and other functions.
Nuance's goal is to make Sync easier to use for first-timers, said Brian Radloff, Nuance's director of automotive solutions. "It's a trend across the auto industry," Radloff said. "Everybody wants the first-time user to engage and have a good experience."
Nuance, of Burlington, Mass., supplies voice technology for Chevrolet MyLink and for Sync, Ford's system for entertainment, phone calls and other functions.
Ford took a step toward conversational usage with its second-generation version of Sync, which was introduced in 2010.
Ford and Nuance created a vocabulary of 10,000 "aliases" -- or alternate word usages -- that motorists could use for commands. And if the motorist made a simple command such as, "I'm hungry," the navigation system provided a list of restaurants.