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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Talking to your car becoming natural
Richard Taylor
BBC World Click Online

Voice recognition systems have come a long way in the last decade and are used in places like call centres, home PCs and even mobile phones.

Speaking navigation system on dashboard of car
Dashboards are becoming the hub of the car
But over the next 10 years, we could even be holding virtual conversations with the car dashboard.

Cars in the digital age are technological feats and it is not just about in-car entertainment.

High-end autos are packed with onboard computers not just for showing how much fuel you have left, but also telling you where you are, and instructing you on how to reach your destination.

Car chat

Since safety is paramount, the computer will even speak to you so your eyes never have to leave the road.

In the future, you could even end up having a natural conversation with your car.

"There are speech recognition systems deployed in cars today but they have a certain amount of limitations," explained Roberto Sicconi, IBM mobile communications research manager.

"Most of them require the user to learn and use a set of commands, and not say anything else. This is one of the complaints we are getting from our early customers.

"They would like to be able to say things freely without having to look into a manual first."

IBM is working on developing a system that allows a driver hold a conversation with a car.

The system would have the ability to answer back, establishing a two-way communication between driver and vehicle.

Stressed out

The computer-generated voice might grate after a while, but at least the planned in-car assistant is entertaining, intelligent, and well connected.

If you have to brake quickly, perhaps to avoid an accident, the system should be able to stop talking and resume when the situation returns to normal
Roberto Sicconi, IBM
By logging onto the internet, it could access everything from traffic updates to e-mails.

But there would be safeguards in place to ensure the system does not ramble on when you least want it to.

"The system has the ability to connect to the system bus that's part of most new cars today," said Mr Sicconi.

"It can detect speed, acceleration, other events particular to the car, so it can determine the stress level of the car.

"If, for example, you are driving too fast certain features may be disabled. E-mail dictation may be disabled if you're driving, say, faster than 30 miles an hour.

"If you have to brake quickly, perhaps to avoid an accident, the system should be able to stop talking and resume when the situation returns to normal."

Other companies are plotting their own routes towards this kind of technology.

But it will be five to 10 years before such systems become a reality.

Many features are still being refined in labs. When they are ready, they hold out the promise of transforming those long, lonely journeys.

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