IBM, Honda team on voice-activated car navigation

IBM Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have jointly developed a voice-activated car navigation system based on IBM’s ViaVoice speech recognition technology and Honda will soon begin offering it as an option in some of its cars, the two companies said Monday.

The system, available as an option on 2003 model year Accord cars, will include an embedded version of ViaVoice that will enable drivers to ask for directions and hear responses from the computerized system. Until now, interaction with car navigation systems has commonly been through a touch-panel display although operating the system while driving is considered dangerous because it means drivers must take their eyes off the road.

With the new system, drivers are required to press a ‘talk’ button located on the steering wheel to get directions. The system can recognize around 150 English language commands, such as ‘find nearest gas station,’ ‘find nearest ATM’ and ‘find nearest Italian restaurant,’ and can also cope with a range of accents, said IBM. It can also respond to commands to find the quickest route to a specific address.

Honda plans to begin selling its 2003 Accords from early September, the company said.

IBM has been working in the field of speech and voice recognition for many years and is best known in the field for its ViaVoice range of consumer software products that allow users to interact with their personal computers using speech. As part of IBM’s pervasive computing work, the company has also been researching the integration of such technology into everyday devices and the project with Honda was part of this work.

Announcement of the work with Honda comes almost a year after IBM unveiled a prototype car of the future that included ViaVoice. The car, a Ford Explorer, was unveiled at the company’s Solutions conference in August 2001 and used ViaVoice to allow the driver to send and read e-mail messages and control other vehicle functions.