Voice control: what it is and why it’s the future in our cars

Voice control

Voice control is fitted to a lot of new cars but the system is still fairly primitive

Any driver with voice control in their car will know that it can be a bit hit and miss. Ask it to dial mum at home and you’re just as likely to end up with directions to Mundham in Norfolk. But that could all be about to change. Car companies believe voice control has enormous potential and are increasingly turning to tech giants such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon to help make it work in our cars. Here we look at voice control, what it is and how it’s going to change.

What is voice control?

Anyone old enough to remember Knight Rider will recall the car talked to its driver. Voice control, or voice recognition, currently works the other way round. Generally, you press a button on the steering wheel. You then state the function you want to operate such as navigation, entertainment or phone. Once in the appropriate menu, you can tell the car what you want it to do. The idea is that you can control non-vital functions without taking your eyes off the road or hands off the wheel.

What are the problems with it?

Current systems can feel a bit clunky. You have to explain exactly which function you want and lead them through it as if you were talking to a three-year old non-native speaker. However, systems are getting better. Some will learn your voice over time and even get to know common phrases or words. Others remain frustratingly slow. However, that will change.

Why have car makers introduced voice control?

Cars are becoming ever more complicated with increasing gadgets and gizmos for drives to operate. Aware that roads aren’t getting any quieter and that drivers have more in-car functions to occupy their eyes and minds, car makers are turning to voice control. But there is an ulterior motive…

How car interiors will change

Nissan has turned to Microsoft’s Cortana virtual personal assistant which will feature in future cars. At the Consumer Electronics Show early in 2017, Nissan previewed two voice functions. One allows you to dictate emails, the other lets you ask your car to locate your wife, kids or whoever among your contacts you want to track. Going forwards, Nissan’s vision is that the interior of our cars will change dramatically. As voice control tech becomes ever more reliable for in-car tasks, designers will be able to eliminate many of the switches we’ve got used to.

Voice Control

KITT in Knight Rider featured voice control, years ahead of its time

How voice control will make driving different

Ultimately, car makers want to connect their drivers with brands selling goods and entertainment. This is because years down the line, when self-driving cars are reality, car makers will have a captive audience. Their plan is that by tying up with companies such as Amazon, you’ll be able to shop and watch TV while your car drives you. And of course you’ll perform all these tasks by having a quick chat with the car.

Do you need voice control?

Current systems are a bit clunky. And cars are still sufficiently straightforward that you don’t really need them. Even if your car is fitted with voice control ‑ if it’s a new car there’s every chance it will be ‑ you may well not use it. But going forwards, voice control will be as common in cars as the steering wheel. Future generations of drivers will have grown up with Cortana, Siri and Alexa and be surprised if their cars don’t feature voice recognition.


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