Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Soon everybody can have a talking car

Talking transportation is not new.

In animals, we've had Francis the talking mule, and Mr. Ed, the talking horse, of course.

NBC's My Mother, the Car," featured a woman who was reincarnated as a 1928 Porter. KITT, the modified Pontiac Trans Am on NBC's Knight Rider, had a lot to say.

Some real cars had annoying vocal reminders. (The most annoying was probably Chrysler's Electronic Voice Alert in 1982, which could say "A door is ajar".) Navigation systems tell us when to turn. Talking alarms try to scare away bad guys and attract the cops.

Soon Ford, the company that bought motoring to the masses, will make smarter talking and listening cars available to everyone, with help from Microsoft.

Ford's new Sync system was unveilled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, and uses both voice recognition and voice sythesis for a variety of functions.

The system allows drivers to have have cellphone text messages read aloud, and use Bluetooth to make handsfree phone calls and to control entertainment systems. The system's voice recognition system has settings for English, Spanish, and Canadian French. Although drivers can't dictate a text response, Sync allows drivers to reply to text messages with canned responses selected by voice command, and sent as text.

Ford said Sync allows people to bring into their vehicle nearly any mobile phone or digital media player and operate it using voice commands or the vehicle's steering wheel or radio controls. Sync integrates the vehicle with the popular portable electronic devices of today and is upgradeable to support future devices and services.

Sync will debut on the 2008 Ford Focus, Fusion, Five Hundred, Edge, Freestyle, Explorer and Sport Trac; Mercury Milan, Montego and Mountaineer; and Lincoln MKX and MKZ; and will be on all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles in the future.

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