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Ford Sync 2 hands-on: More responsive voice control for you car

Distracted driving accounts for more road deaths than drink driving. Cat Dow Finds out how Ford’s new, improved voice recognition system, Sync 2, is making the road safer for all of us. 

What is Ford Sync?

Ford Sync is the infotainment system for the Ford range. Naturally, it’s more advanced than your bog standard AM/FM radio, combining satellite navigation, smartphone connectivity, a link to the emergency services and Siri-style voice control. It’s designed to make life behind the wheel easier, providing a more connected, but safer driving experience.

Sync now speaks your language.
Sync now speaks your language.

How voice recognition been improved in Sync 2?

Arguably the most significant improvement to the system is its language recognition. Before, Sync needed a specific syntax, or string, to be spoken if you wanted the car to understand your command. For example, previously, you’d have to say “Play Artist Adele” or select a radio station with the frequency rather than by name. 

Sync 2 lets you speak more naturally, so “Play Adele” works and longer strings such as “Play Adele from USB” can also be understood. If you want a specific radio station, “I want to listen to Capital FM” will suffice. 

What else can you control by voice?

You can adjust the stereo, enter destinations into your sat-nav and make phone calls. You can even adjust the climate control by saying “set temperate to 18”, so there’re even fewer instances where you need to take your hand off the wheel and your eyes away from the road to make an adjustment. 

More impressively, if you’ve uploaded the application into Sync’s AppLink portal (more on this below) you can control the apps on your smartphone with the car’s voice control system.

Ford use Nuance’s Dragon Drive recognition technology. Some recognition functions are embedded in the car, such as climate control, radio, and bluetooth functionality. However, Dragon Drive calls on information stored in the cloud for more complicated syntax such as ‘Cancel the 10am appointment in my diary on Tuesday 5th September.” For some time, each element of this command needed to be spoken separately, i.e. command, event, time, date. Now, Dragon Drive, and thus Sync 2, offers a more sophisticated service.

The downside of the more complex commands is that you’ll need a strong mobile phone data connection, whether tethered to your smartphone or from a SIM card or dongle in the car. A poor signal can reduce response time.

How do I get my smartphone apps to work with Ford Sync? 

Some apps have to be uploaded, or synchronised, to your car via Ford’s AppLink software. Once synced, you can press the voice recognition button on your steering wheel and speak appropriate commands to open and control the app. 

Can Ford Sync 2 recognise all of my smartphone apps?

No. Not all smartphone apps are directly compatible with the interface in the vehicle. As a result, app developers have to create ‘car-friendly’ versions of their apps. Fortunately, Ford has good links with app developers, so popular apps such as Spotify, Twitter and aHa by Harman are already compatible.

aHa alone helps you to find restaurants and cafes with simple voice commands such as “I’m hungry.” The car’s computer uses your GPS position to offer a list of nearby eateries, which you can further filter based on cuisine preferences, budget, etc.

What about texts and Facebook updates?

Sync 2 can read both SMS text and social media messages aloud. It’ll even let you write brief messages. While the voice recognition is generally accurate, it is prone to misinterpreting words that sound similar (this writer tried not to be offended when Sync 2 referred to her as a Kathryn, when clearly the correct spelling is Catherine). That said, the system can be configured to favor specific spellings.

Does that mean all the buttons in my car are going to disappear?

No. Ford acknowledges that some people, particularly passengers (who can’t reach the voice control button) need access to physical controls, so it’s not desirable to remove all dashboard buttons completely. 

What’s next for automotive voice control?

Nuance, the company behind Sync’s voice recognition system, is keen to develop the system to recognise emotion, to be able to make appropriate suggestions on your playlists and to respond to your commands as a human might as part of a conversation. 

For example, currently, if you schedule an event in your diary and then change your mind, Sync 2 won’t let you immediately undo it by saying ‘cancel that’ — even though you were just talking about it. 

Eventually, Nuance would like Dragon Drive to be a personal assistant, calculating how far you are from home and asking you proactively if you wish to have the lights turned on, the kettle switched on – all as part of the Internet of Things and Smarter Homes.

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