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Analysis: Voice-controlled technology in Chinese automobiles

By Carmen Lee  From Gasgoo.comJanuary 30, 2013 (Shanghai) – Intelligent voice-controlled electronic software is becoming a more and more commonplace feature in automobiles across China. But what sort of future does the technology have in the Chinese automobile market? In order to better understand the issue, (Chinese), in association with 21st Century News Group, conducted a survey of 1,302 industry analysts and experts.

The majority of survey participants, 69 percent, are optimistic in the future of voice-powered automobile technology in the Chinese automobile market. They point out that these technologies are primarily targeted at buyers in their late twenties and early thirties, and that these buyers currently make up the largest group of buyers in the country.

Voice-operated telematic systems, such as Ford's SYNC, Toyota's CarWings, GM's OnStar, Toyota's G-Book and SAIC's iVoka, are now becoming commonplace on several vehicles in China. CEO Chen Wenkai draws a parallel between the growing popularity of voice-operated technology in automobiles and the shift from keypad controlled to touch screen controlled mobile phones.

Increased convenience is a major advantage to such technologies. Now, by just speaking out a name or number, an automobile's voice-powered telematic system linked to a phone via Bluetooth can make a call or transcribe and send an SMS without the driver having to take either his hands or eyes off the wheel. According to Liu Tao, director of SAIC Motor's product and brand development, the manufacturer's initial motivation to develop its iVoka technology was to enhance driver safety.

Increased safety, boosted entertainment value and instant access to detailed driving information are all reasons cited by automobile buyers on why they prefer voice-controlled systems. Survey participants were asked which voice-controlled systems they find to be the most beneficial in automobiles. The majority, 69 percent, answered that voice-controlled navigation systems are the most helpful feature that can be offered, as they save drivers the trouble of fumbling with maps and allow them to concentrate on the road.

However, Mr. Chen points out that the technology is still in relatively immature stages in the country, and there are still a lot of functions not yet offered, such as detailed voice recognition for various common Chinese dialects.

SAIC is among one of the manufacturers that has taken note of the issue. Mr. Tao explains that the third and current generation of iVoka, which is available in the Roewe 350, is powered by Cloud Computing, which allows for more precise voice recognition and feedback.

The new Ford Focus is also equipped with a Chinese version of the manufacturer's SYNC communications system, which was developed in coordination with Microsoft. The system offers a plethora of features targeted specifically at the Chinese driver. SYNC was chosen by 30 percent of survey participants as the system they believe is the most technologically advanced.

When asked about the importance of voice-controlled systems in automobiles, 43 percent of survey participants answered that such systems will be a major factor when consumers select a new vehicle to purchase.

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