Ford’s voice-activated technology, powered by Nuance, recognises and responds to local accents; drivers speak naturally to make calls, play music, and set navigation
Ford SYNC systems can understand accents from Bavarian German to Liverpudlian English in 17 languages; driver says just a few words, and accent is recognised and remembered
Acoustic models and dictionary of voice commands was developed with recordings of thousands of drivers asked to read paragraphs, give common greetings, recite numbers
COLOGNE, Germany, Sept. 24 2015 – From the distinctive Scouse made world-famous by the Beatles, to Michael Caine’s sing-song Cockney, accents in the U.K., and across Europe, have delighted and confused listeners – as well as providing impersonators with a living.
Voice-activated technology though has sometimes been less forgiving of regional accents, requiring users to attempt the received pronunciation of “My Fair Lady” to be understood.
Ford SYNC has been developed in partnership with Nuance Communications to enable drivers around the world to speak naturally to make calls, play music, and set navigation – using their local accent. The system understands accents ranging from Bavarian German to Liverpudlian English, and identifies – and remembers – the driver’s specific accent after only a few words.
“People rightly consider their accent a key to who they are as a person. Practically ensuring that you can easily communicate with your vehicle, whatever part of the country you are from, helps ensure a more convenient journey,” said Christof Kellerwessel, global chief engineer, Electronic and Electrical Systems Engineering, Ford of Europe.
Available on more than 12 million Ford vehicles worldwide, and offering 17 language versions*, Ford SYNC systems are supported by a dictionary that includes alternative pronunciations of words, compiled following field recordings of thousands of drivers around the world. Building the dictionaries for each SYNC language version required researchers to travel to every corner of each country and record speakers using some of the broad range of accents that exist, and are continually emerging.
In the U.K., researchers recorded drivers of all ages in towns and cities that included London, Liverpool, and Newcastle, asking them to read paragraphs, give common greetings and recite numbers. Accents from Germany’s 16 states range from the strong and fast northern tones, where the “ch” is pronounced with a guttural, rasping sound, to the more lilting southern Bavarians.
The broad range of accents that exist for a single language reflects the rich diversity of its speakers and by ensuring voice-activated technology responds to local accents, Ford is helping to safeguard that diversity.
“With national languages such as English, French, and German, we are seeing an overall reduction in accent diversity,” said Dominic Watt, senior lecturer, Department of Language & Linguistic Science, University of York. “In many regions, however, people are very proud of their accents. Given the high value that many consumers continue to attach to their local speech patterns, it’s encouraging to see voice-activated technology that embraces accent diversity rather than seeking to dilute it.”
To record all the different accents for each language version, researchers travelled coast-to-coast in the U.S., and recorded more than 2,000 people in China representing a broad spectrum of society and a variety of accents – from Beijingers drawling their “ers” at the end of words to southerners who tend to blur the distinction between consonant sounds like “sh” and “s”.
Ford has designed SYNC with leading voice technology of Nuance to quickly adjust to the driver’s accent and speech pattern. After the ignition is switched off a file is saved to the system’s memory. Should another driver use the vehicle the system will update the file to recognise their voice.
“By recognising different accents SYNC enables users to quickly become confident in accessing a wide range of content and features, and ultimately to get more out of their car experience,” said Fatima Vital, director marketing automotive and consumer electronics, Nuance Communications.
Ford SYNC was first introduced to Europe in 2012 since when it has been extended throughout much of the Ford range.
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* Languages available for SYNC vary according to operating system. They can include the following: Arabic, Australian English, Brazilian Portuguese, Canadian French, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Mexican Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Taiwanese Mandarin, Turkish, U.K. English, and U.S. English.
About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 195,000 employees and 66 plants worldwide, the company’s automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford and its products worldwide, please visit www.corporate.ford.com.
Ford of Europe is responsible for producing, selling and servicing Ford brand vehicles in 50 individual markets and employs approximately 53,000 employees at its wholly owned facilities and approximately 67,000 people when joint ventures and unconsolidated businesses are included. In addition to Ford Motor Credit Company, Ford Europe operations include Ford Customer Service Division and 23 manufacturing facilities (15 wholly owned or consolidated joint venture facilities and 8 unconsolidated joint venture facilities). The first Ford cars were shipped to Europe in 1903 – the same year Ford Motor Company was founded. European production started in 1911.