IBM, OnStar team up for next-generation voice apps

General Motor's OnStar subsidiary has chosen IBM to provide interactive speech technologies for its next-generation voice-recognition applications.

Working with Troy, Mich.-based OnStar, IBM has enhanced its Embedded ViaVoice product to deliver improved voice-interaction technology for OnStar customers.

"We're providing the voice technology engine, as well as some skills and expertise from an implementation standpoint, to integrate their voice-technology engine into the OnStar Generation 6 product," said Jim Ruthven, program director at IBM Telematics Solutions. "We are proud and excited for the first time to be their embedded voice-technology provider."

Both IBM and OnStar declined to name the previous vendor, but, according to OnStar Chief Technology Officer Bruce Radloff, "from a technology standpoint, they weren't where we wanted them to be for our next-generation release."

Ruthven said IBM's Embedded ViaVoice is a voice engine that provides both voice-recognition as well as digit-dialing capability. "OnStar is using it for its personal calling application," Ruthven said. "So when you say, 'I'd like to dial (a number),' our technology will process that request and turn it into the actual telephone call."

Ruthven said ViaVoice takes the verbal string of numbers, digitizes that string and turns it into bits of information that are then transmitted to the application, which then turns that into digits and dials the phone.

"So from a user point of view, it's making the dialing of the phone much easier. And (it) supports the idea of safety and security from a telematics point of view by allowing the driver to keep his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road," Ruthven said.

In the future, Ruthven said, GM may use the technology in its cars to perform other functions, including opening and closing windows with voice commands.

"This was a new generation of hardware for us, and as we go from generation to generation, we're continually looking for opportunities to improve the capabilities that we wanted," said OnStar's Radloff.

He said OnStar's previous product had a relatively small vocabulary and could only perform single-digit dialing.

"You would say one number at a time, and the system would repeat it back to you before you could go on to the next number," Radloff said. "The IBM technology recognizes a string of numbers."

The IBM voice engine also supports a much large vocabulary, and "it gave us greater ability to tune for the various (noise levels in vehicles) and allowed us to maximize the voice recognition in each vehicle," Radloff said.

OnStar's Gen 6 product also offers digital and analog coverage. The hardware now incorporates Qualcomm Inc.'s third-generation CDMA2000 1X wireless technology, taking advantage of two digital frequencies and one analog frequency, depending on network availability.

OnStar will begin rolling out its Gen 6 hardware in GM vehicles this spring, starting on select midsize sport utility vehicles.

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