Move over Knight Rider: Nuance debuts a Siri for cars

Knight Rider KITT

Nuance Communications wants you to have a conversation with your car via the cloud. The speech recognition company already powers many of the voice technologies embedded into today’s automobiles, but on Tuesday it unveiled Dragon Drive, which moves beyond simple voice commands into the realm of natural language understanding.

Voice command technologies like Ford’s Sync allow drivers to audibly initiate basic tasks like playing music, control the thermostat or answer an incoming call, but there are limits to what Nuance’s onboard software can do. But by tapping into a 3G or 4G connection, a driver’s command can reach out to Nuance’s cloud-based language servers, which can not only understand a far broader range of commands but interpret those commands and deliver results with much more sophistication, said Mike Thompson EVP and GM of Nuance’s mobile division.

What does that mean exactly? Well, according to Thompson, the long-term result will let drivers have a natural conversation with your car – something akin to talking with KITT, the sentient Trans Am from the 1980s TV series Knight Rider. In the near-term we’ll see many of the same capabilities found in Apple’s Siri personal assistant: an interface that is not only able to perform basic tasks and search for information, but also interpret context and intent.

“We are already making KITT in many ways,” Thompson said. “There is a Siri-like effect sweeping across all product categories. … There’s a huge demand for it in automotive.”

Nuance is starting small. The first Dragon Drive application will be an SMS service, allowing drivers to send a text message to a number or contact in their address books as well as dictate the message itself. That service will start appearing in vehicles on dealer lots this summer, Thompson said. But soon, Nuance will start layering on more functions.

Many of the features available in Nuance’s consumer services, such as Dragon Dictation and it’s voice-powered semantic search app DragonGo, will make their way into the dashboard, but Thompson said Nuance wouldn’t simply be repurposing all of its applications for the car. The focus for Dragon Drive, he said, will be services like vehicle navigation and points of interest that are much more useful to a driver, who isn’t going to be spending much time scouring Wikipedia or shopping for handbags online (hopefully).

Music is a good example of where the power of a cloud-based intelligence will come to bear. For instance, if you were to ask a Dragon Drive-equipped car to play a track not loaded into your car’s console or smartphone, the service could give you plenty of other options besides silence. It could search your cloud-based music collection for the track and stream it through your in-dash stereo. It could offer to create a Pandora station based on the particular song or artist. Or it could ask you if you would like to buy the track or album and download it over the air.

Image courtesy of Flickr user

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