IBM is providing enhanced voice recognition technology for a revolutionary new navigation system that will be a standard feature in select 2003 model US-specification Honda Accords, details of which are expected to be announced later today (Monday 29 July). The new range goes on sale across the US on 9 September.

The new system allows the driver of a 2003 Accord to ask for directions and hear responses over the existing car audio system without taking his eyes off the road.

The fully redesigned 2003 Accord line will include the ‘Touch by Voice’ navigation system powered by IBM’s Embedded ViaVoice technology and software developed jointly by IBM and Honda R&D.

The new system has a vocabulary of approximately 150 English-language commands and can recognise a range of accents (plus, a source said, Japanese).

However, it cannot recognise Spanish which is surprising given the number of American residents who speak the language – and the number of marketing programmes the car industry is now aiming specifically at the Hispanic community.

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To get directions, the driver uses the ‘talk’ button, located on the steering wheel. The system recognises commands such as “find nearest gas station”, “find nearest ATM” or “find the nearest Italian restaurant”. It also provides driving directions to and from any specified address or location.

The technology is integrated into the car’s audio system, so driving instructions can be heard over the speakers.  The Touch by Voice human voice recognition system minimises the need for keyboard entry and also links to the climate control system for added driver convenience.

Apart from the newly-developed voice recognition system, the 2003 Accord sat-nav system also features a larger touch screen display (similar to the one used by Jaguar in its S- and X-type lines and also seen in top Lexus models), plus an expanded database that covers virtually all US roads and 7 million points of interest (compared to one million for most systems currently on the market).

IBM says that two most impressive breakthroughs are the defined grammar sequences or rules that “think” in a “human” way, allowing the driver to query the system without sticking to an exact command.  The other major advance is the DVD system itself — a single DVD that covers all of North America instead of requiring the driver to change CD-ROMs several times during a lengthy transcontinental ‘road trip’.

Like other sat-nav systems, Honda’s latest type uses global positioning satellites in combination with detailed information from the vehicle’s DVD-based mapping system to pinpoint the vehicle’s location and provide a variety of useful mapping and route guidance features.

The aerial can utilise up to 12 satellites from a network of 24 but another unique new feature is an internal gyroscopic system and speed sensor that can track the location of the vehicle if the aerial is obstructed by a tunnel, parking garage or tall building so that the map information displayed remains current and reliable.

“With this system, drivers can gain access to a range of services without taking their hands off the wheel,” said American Honda’s senior manager of product planning, Robert Bienenfel.

“It’s more advanced than anything else in the market today. IBM has over 25 years of experience in voice recognition technology, and we’re delighted to be working with the forerunners in this area.”

“The commercial vehicle sector has emerged as a clearly defined target market for telematics players,” said Strategy Analytics in-vehicle telematics and multimedia service director Joanne Downie.

“We estimate that this sector generated $US7.2 billion in telematics service and equipment revenues in the US, western Europe and Japan in 2001 and, by 2007, is expected to reach over $23 billion for terminals shipments and services combined.”

“Computing is entering a phase that goes beyond the PC and into devices and places not normally associated with heavy computing power. This innovative navigation system, jointly developed by Honda and IBM, is just one example of how we work with our industry partners to push the envelope in the emerging area of pervasive, wireless and mobile computing, “ said IBM director of global automotive and telematics solutions Raj Desai.

An IBM spokeswoman said there were no plans to offer the new voice-recognition sat-nav system in Honda’s Accord models sold outside the US at this stage.