Ford Motor Co. says it is 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 in more languages than any other automaker offering voice control.
The expansion brings the convenience of Sync to a 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 — the European equivalent of the International Consumer Electronics Show.
“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.”
At the heart of Sync is the speech engine, and Ford is working with its speech technology partner, Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance Communications Inc., to deliver a similar experience across the multiple languages.
Ford uses 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 of 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 United States, United Kingdom and Australian English, European and Canadian French, European and U.S. Spanish, European and Brazilian Portugese, German, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Mandarin.
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.
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.