Your computer has voice recognition software to help you write emails without touching the keyboard. Your phone can probably understand voice commands as well so you can speak and take notes or even search the web. Now how about driving a car that does voice recognition?
Ford recently introduced the All-New Ford Fiesta in India and I have test-driving the petrol version (Titanium model) for about two weeks now. The new Fiesta sports a very attractive exterior body (the blue color definitely is an eye-turner), the interiors feel quiet, the car comes fitted with parking sensors at the rear but the one feature that interested me the most was voice control.
The All-New Ford Fiesta lets you control the air-conditioning, radio, the CD player and your phone using simple voice commands. The first time I used the voice feature to change the fan speed, you could hear that collective wow from everyone inside the car.
The voice button attached to the steering wheel is easily approachable. You just need to press that button once, the car makes a short beep sound and you are in voice mode.
Next you “speak” the command. For instance, you say ‘temperature’, the car repeats if it successfully recognizes your command and then you say a number - like twenty three - to set the temperature at 23 °C. If you try setting a very high temperature, the system says “not possible” and cancels the command.
Similarly, if you want to tune the radio to a particular frequency, you say the command Radio followed by AM or FM and then the station frequency. The voice commands are easy to remember though it may take a couple of days to master them well. I kept using the command “fan speed” and it would fail every time, turned out the command was “fan” which I only realized after going back to the car manual.
You can pair your mobile phone with the car and make or receive phone calls hands-free. The pairing is wireless - it uses Bluetooth - and you can configure up to six different phones with the car (much needed if other family members also use the car).
Once the phone is connected, making calls is easy. Press the Voice Control button, say the command Dial Number and say the number. The system would repeat the number to confirm and you say Dial to begin dialing. The car has an internal memory that you may use to store frequently dialed numbers and attach them with a name - thus you don’t you have say the whole number again. If you are on a busy route, you can use the command “Reject Calls” and the car would automatically reject all your incoming phone calls.
The car’s dashboard is also fitted with a phone-like keyboard to help you quickly dial numbers manually in case the voice system isn’t able to recognize your spoken digits correctly. Alternatively, and this is interesting, you can access your complete phone logs and your phone’s address book on the 3.5” screen attached to the dashboard but there’s no way to navigate this list with voice.
Voice control is a useful feature and the implementation is very user-friendly but how well does it work. The first two days with the system were frustrating as it would not recognize most of the voice commands. Either I was speaking too fast or, I thought, the car’s voice recognition system had trouble recognizing my Indian accent.
Things however got a little better with time. I was still speaking in natural tone but added a little extra pause between letters and that seemed to do the trick most of the times. I have captured a quick video here detailing my experience with the various voice commands of the All-New Ford Fiesta.
You would ideally want the system to recognize your voice command in the first attempt but in my experience, that happened only 60-70% of the times. The system especially had trouble recognizing the number “two” in the phone mode (see video). In another instance, I kept saying “FM” for radio and the system would always recognize that as “AM” so there was no other choice but to use the physical buttons.
Overall, voice commands in the new Ford Fiesta are a nice-to-have feature, the phone connectivity feature is especially impressive but the built-in speech recognition system definitely needs improvement to better understand our Indian English accent.