Ford's popular SYNC infotainment system is expanding its horizons, pushing out support to an intercontinental 19 dialects, all without booking a plane ticket or using a pocket dictionary.
The new language packs will be made available in the 2012 Euro-spec Ford Focus, with more production SYNC vehicles to come. SYNC has provided its services to Ford drivers since early 2007, and at the time of release supported only three languages. Ford will offer voice recognition capabilities driven by Nuance Communications to produce a multi-lingual environment that recognizes over 10,000 voice commands in any one of the 19 languages. And there's a fair bit of mixing and matching as well.
If the SYNC system is configured for one particular language, and you're driving through, say, Italy, the navigation say street names with the proper Italian pronunciation. This feature is carried throughout SYNC's programs, allowing the system to burst out with colloquial expressions and common phrases within a language. The pronunciation of artist, song and album names is also on the table, but poses a few challenges. Full details in the PR blast below.
- Ford SYNC® to expand its vocabulary from three to 19 languages, as Ford announces global rollout of the in-vehicle connectivity technology
- New languages will be available first in Europe in 2012 with introduction in the Ford Focus
- SYNC language expansion sets an industry benchmark for automotive voice recognition capability
DEARBORN, Mich., Feb. 28, 2011 – Ford is expanding the reach of Ford SYNC globally with the European launch of its popular voice-controlled connectivity system, with the capability of now offering 19 languages.
SYNC was originally launched in North America in 2007 with three languages. With the additional 16 vernaculars, Ford will offer voice recognition capability, powered by Nuance Communications, in more languages than any other automaker offering voice control.
The expansion brings the convenience of SYNC to a much larger audience of potential customers, said Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally, who kicked off the global launch of SYNC this week at the 2011 CeBIT technology show in Hanover, Germany.
"We are pleased to announce that SYNC will soon be available to customers around the world," Mulally said. "It is a smart and simple way to connect drivers with in-car technologies and their digital lives."
Teaching a car to speak
At the heart of SYNC is the speech engine, and Ford is working with its speech technology partner, Nuance Communications, to deliver a similar experience across the multiple languages.
Ford leverages significant investments made by Nuance to support the broad dialect coverage required in larger regions such as the United States. Additionally, regions such as Europe present unique challenges, in part because of the proximity of different countries and the resulting need for multilingual solutions.
For the customer, that means SYNC can recognize 10,000 voice commands in any one of the available 19 languages, and can cope with variances in accents, vocabulary and local dialects.
If a German customer, for example, is driving in Italy, the system can provide directions in German but will use the correct Italian pronunciation for street names.
Within each international market, a unique set of abbreviations for text messaging also has been identified. For example, "cvd," short for "Ci vediamo dopo," was added for SYNC to read aloud, which basically means "See you later" in Italian.
"We had to make sure the system would behave as people expect in different countries and different cultures," said Mark Porter, supervisor, SYNC Product Development. "That means we had to solicit local, native-speaking input for common abbreviations used in SMS messages as well as support different units of distance and date formats."
Song titles and artist names posed further challenges. A German owner, for instance, may have songs by artists of German, American, Spanish and other nationalities on an MP3 player. Due to phonetic differences between the languages, the system must be able to recognize a name whether it's pronounced in German or deep southern American English.
"The in-car experience needs to be global in nature, supporting a variety of languages to ensure all commands, addresses and song titles are recognized, whether you're from Germany, Portugal or France. Localization should not equal limitations," said Arnd Weil, vice president, Nuance Automotive. "Working closely with Ford, we've customized the SYNC experience across multiple languages to ensure drivers in all regions experience the simplicity and convenience that in-car voice technology has to offer."
With the language expansion, SYNC with MyFord Touch will be available in:
Taiwanese Mandarin (supported through Mandarin Chinese)
Software, rather than hardware, solutions
As with many SYNC advancements over the years, the expanded language capabilities leverage the system's flexible, software-based platform for a cost-effective and efficient solution.
Using a single, common hardware module equipped with Wi-Fi®, SYNC can be easily configured for language on the assembly line. An on-the-line server connects with the SYNC module wirelessly, determines the appropriate software installation – including language – and downloads the information to the vehicle.
Using a common module and Wi-Fi installation avoids the logistics of stocking unique modules with every possible combination of language and capability offered by SYNC. In fact, Ford would have had to produce more than 90 different hardware modules to accommodate all of the different languages installed at assembly plants around the world.
Voice poised to become primary in-car communication interface
With independent research firms such as Datamonitor predicting that advanced speech recognition in the mobile world will triple by 2014 with similar growth for speech recognition in vehicles, Ford is ahead of the curve with the SYNC global language expansion plan.
"Ford is committed to making voice recognition the primary user interface inside the car throughout the world, helping all drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel," said Jim Buczkowski, a Henry Ford Technical Fellow and director of Electrical and Electronics Systems for Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. "This expansion of SYNC language capabilities is a huge step forward in bringing voice technology to every market Ford serves."
The Ford Focus will be the first vehicle to launch with SYNC in Europe in 2012.