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MyFord Touch Provides Mixed Bag of Changes to Speech Interface

by Chris Schreiner | 7月 15, 2010

Ford today announced improvements to their speech recognition software in SYNC in MyFord Touch (the speech recognition software is provided by Nuance). These improvements are intended to increase usability, decrease the learning curve for new users, and reduce driver distraction. These enhancements include a larger vocabulary at the top level, and allows for a more natural interaction by providing multiple commands to perform the same function (e.g. you can say “Play song” or “Play track”). Ford has also released a video which demonstrates these enhancements. Allowing a more natural interaction by allowing for multiple commands for the same function will improve usability, as users will not need to memorize a specific grammar list, and the commands chosen by Nuance on the surface appear intuitive. I do foresee some usability issues that will come from these enhancements. First, previous versions of SYNC only recognized about 100 words. In MyFord Touch, that is increased to nearly 10,000 words. While on the surface this seems a great improvement, increasing the grammar to that extent can easily decrease the accuracy of the system. Errors in speech commands not only increase time to complete a task and user frustration, but the cognitive load of recovering from errors can increase driver distraction. Another “improvement” struck me as curious. Sync can be used to adjust the climate controls in the vehicle, but I don’t understand how performing that task by voice can be more user-friendly or decrease driver distraction. Typically, adjusting the temperature in the vehicle requires a quick glance and a brief button press or turn of a knob. With sync, it requires a button press, a verbal command, and a visual glance to the center console to make sure that the command was recognized, as the only apparent audio feedback is a tone. Additionally, each one-degree increase in temperature requires an additional voice command! Speech is useful for complex tasks, but as recommended in our best practices for speech interfaces (Voice HMI: Connected Car Opportunities and UX Best Practices) should not be used for simple tasks which can be done in fewer steps manually. There also appears to be some inconsistency in the system with regards to what is available from the top menu. One example is with radio. The user can say “101.1 HD2” and the HD radio will change stations. However, if you want to listen to Sirius, there is an additional step as you first have to say “Sirius” and after another prompt, say the channel you wish to listen to. These types of inconsistencies will make it more difficult for new users to feel confident in using SYNC. Overall, I applaud Ford and Nuance for trying to improve the usability of speech recognition. Speech is the input method of choice if we are to see more connected services in the vehicle. These improvements are a small step, but there still is a long way to go. Chris Schreiner Strategy Analytics’ Automotive Consumer Insights service will be conducting a user experience study of the Ford MyTouch this summer.
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