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January 09, 2009

Tellme IVR to Drive Ford's New SYNC Service

Tellme, a Microsoft (News - Alert) subsidiary, will be providing IVR technology for Ford Motor Company’s new SYNC Traffic, Directions and Information service, scheduled to be launched this spring.

This partnership, Tellme’s (News - Alert) first automotive industry engagement, was unveiled at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. SYNC itself is powered directly by Microsoft.
Traffic, Directions and Information is an interactive voice-powered service that expands Ford’s SYNC voice-command capabilities. Simply by speaking, motorists can access online services while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, including personalized driving directions, traffic reports and information such as business listings, news, weather and sports. This new feature will save them time, fuel, money and aggravation and reduce emissions.
The new Tellme-driven SYNC application will be mashed up with GPS and Bluetooth technology and accessible via drivers’ Bluetooth-capable mobile phones. It will only be available in the United States.
Ford, which is weathering the economic storms better than most other automakers, will be offering the new Tellme-engined service on these 2010 vehicles when equipped with SYNC: Focus, Fusion, Flex, Expedition, F150, SuperDuty, Sport-Trac, Edge, Escape, Explorer, Mustang, Taurus, Milan, Mountaineer, MKS, MKX, MKZ, Navigator and Mariner. The SYNC service will roll out across the entire Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury lineup by 2011.
New services come with no monthly subscription fees for the first three years. Users’ customizations stay with their phones, can be used in other SYNC-equipped vehicles, and can be upgraded free as new services are available. Ford expects that SYNC sales will top 1 million in 2009.
SYNC, together with TellMe’s robust IVR solution, proven in other intensive and information-critical applications such as the travel industry, provides the benefit of always having an immediate response available to motorists. There are no risks of agent queues that are distracting and annoying to cope with, and which could lead drivers down the wrong road while waiting for critical information.
Tellme manages more than 2 billion phone calls every year, providing a huge database for optimizing voice recognition. Unlike embedded speech recognition systems, which rely on the underpowered processors in mobile phones or personal navigation devices, Tellme performs speech recognition on high-speed servers in its own datacenters. This enables maximum accuracy and response time.
Tellme has developed sophisticated voice synthesis that delivers the cadences of true human speech, rather than the robotic staccato of many current systems, which improves task completion rates. Its natural language audio designs make it easy for people to say what they want rather than wait to select from lengthy menus of numbered choices, reducing task completion time.
Because Tellme’s services are network-based, new features and functionality can be added without any need for hardware or software upgrades. It can provide detailed statistical analysis on how customers interact with the service, giving the automotive industry new insight into customer needs.
“Tellme’s leadership in voice technology made them our choice to provide the front end of Ford’s Traffic, Directions and Information service,” said Doug VanDagens, director of Connected Services at Ford Motor Company.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average American spends 16.5 hours a week in a vehicle. It says that motorists find it increasingly unacceptable to be cut off from on-demand communications, information and entertainment services while on the go.
However, existing interfaces for computers, mobile phones and navigation devices are often not appropriate in the vehicle. Among car buyers, 80 percent say the availability of connected voice services would be a key deciding factor in which car to purchase, according to Tellme research.
“Voice is the natural interface for in-car experiences, and Tellme is uniquely positioned to deliver services that keep motorists informed, productive and entertained on the road,” says Dariusz Paczuski, senior director of Tellme Consumer Services. “Our connected services are transformative because they deliver real-time information on demand. There is no more waiting for a traffic report on the radio that doesn’t even cover your route, or relying on map data that’s months out of date.”

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Brendan B. Read is TMCnet�s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan�s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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