by Jim Kerr

2001 Jaguar S-Type with Voice.
2001 Jaguar S-Type with Voice.

Just imagine rolling down the highway while talking to your car. Your commands are interpreted and the climate control starts to blow cool air, or the in-vehicle phone connects you to the office. It sounds like science fiction, but so was a voyage to the moon only a few decades ago!
The reality is, both are possible, and Jaguar is the world’s first automobile company to offer Voice Activated Controls.

You might think a complex voice activated controls system would be offered on only the most expensive models, but Jaguar decided to start with the system on their lowest priced model: the Jaguar S-Type sedan. After using the system for several days, I finally appreciated how much of a safety feature voice activated controls are. Here is how it works.

The Voice Activated Control system uses a 32-bit microprocessor to analyze the voice commands and compares them to predetermined commands in the computer’s eight megabyte memory bank. The computer then transmits digital instructions through the car’s multiplex communications network to the units being controlled. It sounds very complex, and the technology is truly amazing, but the best part is how simple it is to operate.

When you wish to operate a control, you press a button on the steering wheel and talk to the car. You can talk in your normal voice and in continuous speech. There is no need to separate each word. The system can recognize accents and dialects, and it can even be trained for two
drivers by following a simple routine that takes less than 1/2 hour to complete. Much of this routine is just reading a script to the car so it can learn your speech patterns.

Jaguar S-Type equipped with Visteon Voice Technology(TM)Jaguar S-Type equipped with Visteon Voice Technology(TM)
The Jaguar S-Type equipped with Visteon Voice Technology(TM) on display, August 14, 2000 Telematics/Multimedia press event.

British English is different from North American English, so there are different voice recognition modules installed in the car, depending upon where the car is sold. Other language recognition modules are in development, at about a cost of $1 million dollars per language. With
development costs so high, you would guess the Voice Activated Controls option would be expensive, but the $2464.00 price also includes the Deluxe Communications package. This includes the cellular telephone, Jaguar Assist emergency messaging system, and in the U.S., an integrated navigation system. I expect the navigation system will be offered in Canada as soon as mapping is completed.

Currently, the Voice Controls only operate three systems: the sound system, the Climate control system, and the cellular phone. I would think it could easily be expanded to operate every system on the car, from door locks to headlamps, if Jaguar wished! For now, it only controls the three systems most often used by a driver.

The philosophy behind Voice Activated controls is safety while driving: keep your hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road. It works. When you press the activation button on the steering wheel, a chime is heard and the word listening is displayed on the driver information centre by the speedometer. At first, I found myself watching the information centre display, which would defeat the “eyes on the road” philosophy, but I soon got used to the system operation and found it easy keep my eyes up.

After hearing the chime, you tell the car your command. There are 44 separate commands that are accepted. There is a convenient “commands” card in the console, but I found it was easier to give the “help” command at first. The system would then offer guidance for all the voice-controlled features. After a couple days of driving the car, I hadlearned the basic commands and “help” wasn’t needed as often.

Visteon demonstration of voice activated controls
Visteon spokesperson demonstrates the capabilities of Visteon’s Voice Technology(TM)in the Jaguar S-Type during the Telematics/Multimedia press event, August 14, 2000.

When you give a command, the computer responds by displaying the word “processing” and a polite male voice repeats the command over the radio speaker. A second later, the system carries out the command. To cancel acommand, just press the steering wheel activation button a second time. If you are annoyed by the feedback male voice, the volume of the voice
can be adjusted or turned off entirely.

I love the Voice Activation system. I would hop in the car, start it, and head off into traffic. Press the button and say “Radio play”. Then say “Radio tune CBC”. The radio tuned into the news. The sun was out and the car interior was a little warm. Press the button and say “Temperature 21 degrees”. Presto; cool air starts to flow!

Traffic is slow and I will be home a little late. Press the button and say “phone home”. Soon I am talking with my wife. Traffic is now very heavy and I feel like relaxing. Some soothing music will fit the bill: “CD play disc number 4, track 6” and the sweet sounds begin to flow through the interior.

Voice activation works well, and is especially useful when driving in heavy traffic or when road conditions are poor. Your attention is focused on the road instead of looking for a control knob somewhere on the dash. The only flaw I found with voice activation was when my son was riding in the car and singing some songs; the system would occasionally recognize a command from him before I had a chance to speak!

To many, Jaguar’s Voice Activated Controls will probably seem like another expensive toy. The few who actually spend some time with the system will soon learn to appreciate the benefit of voice activation and the measure of safety it provides.

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