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The Israeli branch of the IBM Corporation recently announced that it has jointly developed with the Honda Motor Company a unique, hands-free speech recognition system that will provide driving directions, allow easy control over climate and entertainment systems and even suggest nearby restaurants to the driver. Beginning this month, the system will be available on three of Honda's models in the US and Canada.

The Acura interior including the navigation system in the top right

The revolutionary technology developed at the IBM Haifa research facility made Honda the first car manufacturer to equip automobiles with in-car navigation systems using advanced speech recognition and text-to-speech capabilities that can identify spoken street and city names that exist across the entire continental United States. This technology allows drivers to say the address they wish to locate and receive turn-by-turn voice guidance to their destinations. Similar technology already exists as a third-party software for hand held computers with GPS receivers, but the IBM version installed on the new Honda models has a superior speech recognition capability that completely eliminates the need to manually enter the destination. The voice recognition software can also operate some of the car functions such as sound system and air conditioning.

To create the advanced, natural-sounding text-to-speech system, IBM Haifa and Honda research-and-development teams have digitally processed hundreds of hours of speech recordings found in earlier-model Honda systems. They have also produced hundreds of additional recordings to design a natural sounding text-to-speech voice, digitally segmenting speech, and intonations that can allow vehicles to communicate naturally with their drivers.

A closer look at the Acura built-in navigation panel

The IBM Haifa team has been working on voice-enabled systems for more than two years. Zohar Sivan, manager of the Media Services and Technologies group at the IBM Haifa Lab recently said that: "What we are now seeing for vehicle-centered voice technology is just the beginning of the revolution that will take place in mobile voice-enabled solutions." IBM predicts that by 2012, similar speech recognition technology will be accessible in more than half of all new vehicle models.

The new voice-navigation system will be included in new Honda 2005 models, including the Honda Odyssey minivan and the Acura RL.

Iddo Genuth

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