Is Siri Coming to A Car Near You?

The answer, surprisingly, is probably “yes.” Someday, anyway. It may not be Apple’s popular voice recognition program, but it will be something similar…and it’s a lot closer to being commonplace than people may think.

Nuance Communications, which works largely in speech recognition and speech command software, recently debuted their system “Dragon Drive.” Working with your smartphone, or using an onboard computer, Dragon Drive allows drivers to send text messages or emails, ask for directions, ask for local landmarks, and other useful functions you might like while driving. It can also read emails and text messages back to you.

This is actually more impressive than it sounds. Here’s why…

The History (and Challenges) of Speech Recognition
Speech recognition is famously difficult for computers to pull off: back when Apple was working on it, they handed out t-shirts saying “I helped Apple Wreck a Nice Beach”…because that’s how the most advanced program at the time interpreted the phrase “recognize speech.” That really sums up the problem: it’s hard for computers to sort out specific words from the sounds we make, so it has to guess. Only recently have those guesses gotten to the point where, with enough oomph from a processor behind them, they can actually put together a reasonable approximation, in text, of what you’re actually saying.

Text messages have also helped in the sense that we’re way more accepting of typos, but that’s another article entirely.

The Benefits of Speech Recognition Software in Our Vehicles
OK, so it’s pretty neat, and we all want to imagine we’re driving KITT or that our car is secretly just like the Enterprise. Talking computers are inherently pretty awesome in of themselves. But why, precisely, do we want them in our cars?

The short answer? Safety. These systems will not only make cars a whole lot more convenient to use, in some ways, and cater to our busy lifestyles, they’ll also keep our hands on the wheel and our eyes on the road.

There’s no two ways about it: distracted driving is dangerous. The Mythbusters pretty dramatically proved it by actually getting drunk, driving a test course, and then driving the course again on a phone and…doing much worse. According to AAA, driving on your phone quadruples — yes, quadruples, — your chances of getting in a car crash. Even hands-free sets have their own problems, as they can still distract drivers. Yes, even if you use voice dial.

Nobody realistically thinks, though, that we’re just going to throw our cellphones into a lead-lined box, or turn them off, while we drive. Like it or not, we’re in constant contact, now, and even if the higher-ups make it illegal, plenty of us are still going to yack on the phone behind the wheel.

So, systems like this lower the risk substantially. Your eyes stay on the road, and your hands stay on the wheel, allowing you to focus on the task at hand. So there’s a safety aspect that appeals to governments, customers, and auto insurers alike.

And, needless to say, it’s an optional extra that adds a little bit to the cost of your car. Let’s face it, car companies are in the business of selling you a car for as much money as they can reasonably get. So, in the future, don’t be surprised if you say something to your car…and your car says something back.

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