Let's just all admit that in its current state voice recognition technology is atrocious. The success rate even with Apple's Siri feels like it hovers around 50 percent and similar systems aren't much better. There are just too many possible accents, cadences and word choices to make the tech a viable proposition right now. Even worse, all of the additional noise in a car makes things less responsive when you try to bring speech recognition onto the road. One AAA study found that using a text-to-speech function in a vehicle was actually more distracting than using a handheld phone, and Consumer Reports has been railing against infotainment design in general for a while for their un-usability.

According to the industry analysts at J.D. Power, the solution to this automotive scourge is incredibly simple – dump them and figure out the basics first. During a speech at the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars, the company's executive director of interaction Kristin Kolodge lambasted voice recognition in cars, according to Automotive News. She said that a third of the organization's infotainment-related complaints are due to this tech, but the industry isn't listening. "Only one of the motorists we talked to wanted more features. The majority just wanted their systems to work," she said.

Her talk echoed J.D. Power's own 2014 Initial Quality Survey where it said, "the increase in problems among all-new vehicles is found mainly in the areas of voice recognition, Bluetooth pairing and audio systems." Kolodge's recommendation was for automakers to perfect basic functions like phone calls and navigation first, then they could move to more advanced functions.

Of course, Kolodge's suggestion isn't likely to gain much traction in the industry. Few automakers are going to welcome removing features that cost millions to develop. That doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth considering, though.


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  • 29 Comments
      Will
      • 4 Months Ago

      Odd headline. Writer doesn't seem to understand what JD Power does. Their reports are based on surveys of consumers.

      HollywoodF1
      • 4 Months Ago

      I witness people struggling with their voice-activated systems, and note many similar failings.  The systems can be very efficient, safe, and useful if you learn to work with it.  Think of it this way-- you learned to type, so learn to talk to your car.  It does require a little effort to learn to do right.  Once you've learned, it's easy and the payoff is great.  But people expect that there is essentially no learning curve with voice-activated.  They consider it to be the car's fault if it can't understand them.  One day, this may be the case.  But for now, a little learning is required.  It is definitely worth it.  

      car-a-holic
      • 4 Months Ago

      I knew it! Fact is stranger than fiction 

      Larry Litmanen
      • 4 Months Ago

      But wouldn't a simple software update down the road solve the issue once all the kinks are worked out.

        Armand
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Larry Litmanen
        Depends how good the hardware is.
      greg
      • 4 Months Ago

      the SYNC in my Ford Focus works well enough it handles my bluetooth phone and usb flash drive well. it can even distinguish the difference between saying play artist the Beatles and play artist the eagles you'll be surprised how many cars I've tried this on can get it wrong. 

      Matt
      • 4 Months Ago

      GM's newest MyLink/Intellilink/CUE systems work very well with voice commands.  The top end systems use Nuance natural language recognition which works very well.  You can simply say "I want to listen to rock music" and voila, it will find you a rock station.  While the system is still not perfect, it's as good as I've seen in a vehicle for ease of use and functionality.

      psarquis
      • 4 Months Ago

      Let's face it, computers are a long way from truly intelligent voice recognition.  Google Now and Apple's Siri are what I'm hoping for in my next car, but even those aren't great at it.  My 2014 BMW's voice recognition is much better than the previous voice recognition in the last 2008 Honda Accord I had, but still nowhere near Google or Apple's.  All of the cars I've had with voice recognition require that you say specific words to then prompt a search.  For example, I can't just say "find Chinese restaurants" in my BMW.  I have to say "points of interest", then say "Chinese restaurants" for it to find the nearest Chinese restaurants.  As long as you lead it into the right category, it's fine.  However, my expectation is that it match the capabilities on my smartphone, especially since it's still a $2,000+ option on a new car.

      Bernard
      • 4 Months Ago

      Pfft, Google voice recognition works a lot better than 50% of the time. Maybe if you wrote this in the 90's. The systems in cars don't leverage cloud computing, so they are limited to whatever processing power the car has. Typically auto manufactures skimp on CPU performance in a car.

        Alfonso T. Alvarez
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Bernard

        " ... Typically auto manufactures skimp on CPU performance in a car. ..."


        Not really true at all - the average car has @ 50 micro's for various functions, with multiple CAN and LIN busses.  Newer entry lux and above cars have MOST for infotainment and FlexRay for driver assistance stuff.


        Ethernet is going to replace MOST pretty quickly, but the CAN networks for powertrain are almost all dual core processors.  

        So basically, your car is the most technologically advanced thing you own.

          Bernard
          • 4 Months Ago
          @Alfonso T. Alvarez

          "your car is the most technologically advanced thing you own."

          LOL, sorry ALfonso, I work in IT. My home PC is a quad core i7 with 24 gigs of RAM. Even my cell phone has a quad core CPU. As a matter of fact, the GeForce 520T graphics processor in my PC has 48 cores and that's just for displaying 3D graphics. Now I know you cannot compare RISC cores to CISC cores, but there is a ton computing power inside a $2,000 PC that you will not find in even a top of the line luxury car. The automarket is slow to adopt technology, they have too many regulations to worry about.

          I've programmed embedded systems before so I know that stating the number of microcontrollers in a car is meaningless. The average microcontroller only runs at a few dozen megahertz (as opposed to the 2-4 gigahertz in the average desktop PC) using a single low power processor core with a small data bus (less that the 64 bits you find in a desktop PC) that lacks advance features like hyper threading, SIMD, and anything approaching an 8 MB cache. It's not an even comparison. A single desktop CPU could very well do the work of 50 low end microcontrollers.

          To put this in perspective the Geekbench CPU benchmarking software scores the iPhone 5 S's processor (which is at the high end of the mobile world) at 2557, while the Core i7 is 16116.

          The fact that the simple infotainment systems in these cars have the best processors should tip you off as to how far behind they are. Infortainment systems typically use cell phone processors. They don't need anymore.

          I use my desktop to run up to 5 full desktop operating systems simultaneously (think of one computer simulating 5 full computers) in virtual machines with each one running separate instances of software under test. While a mobile phone CPU can't even do hardware visualization, most can barely run 3 apps at the same time.

          b.rn
          • 4 Months Ago
          @Alfonso T. Alvarez

          Bernard, you're equating computing power to technologically advanced.  They're not the same.

      b.rn
      • 4 Months Ago

      I would disagree with JD Powers.  I use voice recognition on the pictured system daily.  I'd put my accuracy at better than 95%.  It's much less distracting than pushing buttons.

      Granted, I don't use it to dictate a letter.  I use it mostly to control climate and audio.  With thousands of songs loaded on my SD card, it's the only reasonable way to select music.  Anything else would be a disaster.

      Chris Stevenson
      • 4 Months Ago

      I've been using the voice recognition on my Mazda3 without problems for six months.  In fact, it's much easier to read an address out loud than to type it in with the touch screen, and it has yet to go wrong.  My only complaint is that when I say "Play Album <album title>", it plays the album in alphabetical (not track) order--but that's not a voice recognition problem, that's a programming issue.  It always plays the right album.

      Winnie Jenkems
      • 4 Months Ago

      Just like trying to move every function to a touchscreen, it's more unnecessary technology for technology's sake and in reality only serves to make the driving experience worse while adding weight and cost.

      Physical switchgear, please.

      Master Austin
      • 4 Months Ago

      My FordSync system works fine with voice-recognition for myself, but thats just 1, of a few ways to access the system.  I'm finding that speaking to it on certain things is just more time consuming that honestly just pressing one damn button.  But there's other commands that would obviously take too much work to press buttons for, and its just easier saying "Play Song, Erotica" than going thru all the menu lists with buttons to find it.  Navigation is another easy one to speak to, than playing with buttons, BUT you have various options, so not sure why some are harping. If they spent time seeing what "works" then will figure out whats the easiest method to approach each action.

        Greg
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Master Austin

        It's dumb to think it's okay to have a bad system just because they built in a workaround.

        It's not okay to have a slow and unresponsive touch screen because you have steering wheel controls. It's not okay to have a indecisive transmission because it has a manual mode. It's not okay to have faulty key fob because there's also a lock cylinder in the door.

        If you add a feature, it needs to work. If it doesn't, remove it.

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