Ford develops accent-detecting voice recognition car tech

Just because you speak the same language as someone else, it doesn’t mean you pronounce your words in the same way.

There are so many regional variations of English that it can be difficult for a person born and raised in one area of a country to understand the accent of someone born and raised just a few hundred miles away.

I’ve watched TV shows where people speaking perfectly good English have been subtitled because they have a really strong accent that not everyone can follow.

If people struggle to comprehend other people, you can only imagine the problems machines have with these variations. If you’ve ever spent time repeating the same set of words or commands in a variety of accents in an effort to have a piece of software understand and respond to you, you’ll appreciate what I’m saying.

The problem of not being understood by voice activated technology is particularly problematic in cars. When driving your focus should be on the road rather than trying to get your vehicle to recognise your request to place a call or play a music track.

Thankfully, Ford has a solution in the form of its global voice-activated SYNC Technology which responds to local accents. It can understand accents from Bavarian German to Liverpudlian English in 17 languages. The driver only has to say a few words, and accent will be recognised and remembered (should another driver use the vehicle the system will update a saved file to recognise their voice).

Developed in partnership with Nuance Communications and available on more than 12 million Ford vehicles worldwide, SYNC systems are supported by a dictionary that includes alternative pronunciations of words, compiled following field recordings of thousands of drivers around the world.

"People rightly consider their accent a key to who they are as a person. Practically ensuring that you can easily communicate with your vehicle, whatever part of the country you are from, helps ensure a more convenient journey", said Christof Kellerwessel, global chief engineer, Electronic and Electrical Systems Engineering, Ford of Europe.

Building the dictionaries for each SYNC language version required researchers to travel to every corner of each country and record speakers using some of the broad range of accents that exist, and are continually emerging.

Languages available for SYNC vary according to operating system but may include UK English, US English (aka ‘American’), Australian English, Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Canadian French, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Mexican Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Taiwanese Mandarin, and Turkish.