Sync system keeps Focus on driving

Ford Focus
Ford Focus

A young Australian soldier arrives at the front line and an English officer asks, "Have you come here to die?" The Aussie replies: "No sir - I came here yesterday!"

Strange introduction for a motoring article, huh? But it does illustrate something special Ford has had to do with its facelifted Ford Focus hatch for markets in Australia and New Zealand.

The vehicle has on board new voice-activated in-car technology called Sync, and even though this has the ability to recognise 19 different languages, the experts at Ford have deemed it necessary to tweak it further so it can respond to what is known as Australian English.

Ford Focus
Ford Focus

The system even features a voice prompt with an Aussie accent, as I discovered in Melbourne last week while being shown how to order Sync to select music I wished to listen to.

Honestly, the system's female voice was so Australian it's a wonder it didn't call me Darl.

Actually her name is Karen. True! And her voice has been designed to provide Australasian drivers with what Ford describes as a more natural and conversational in-car voice experience.

It's all so drivers will be encouraged to take advantage of the hands-free capabilities of Sync and keep their focus on driving, said Mark Porter, Ford Motor Company's supervisor of Sync product development and core voice technology.

He added that most linguists consider there to be three main varieties of Australian English - broad, general, and cultivated.

Cultivated Australian English? In Australia?

That set me thinking about where that might be found. It certainly wouldn't be in Queensland or the eastern suburbs of Sydney.

Sync is a fascinating new system however. It's been available since 2007 and is already equipped in more than four million vehicles around the world.

Being a voice-activated connectivity system, it allows drivers to make hands-free calls via Bluetooth and to control in-car entertainment options such as music through voice control. It is able to understand 150 unique voice commands in the 19 different languages with numerous different accents.

For example, in China the Sync aboard the new Focus speaks and understands Mandarin Chinese, which is a language spoken by 1.2 billion people.

Ford undertook extensive research into that fact, going to the trouble of recording speech data of more than 2000 people around China, who represented a broad spectrum of society and variety of accents.

These people were asked to read paragraphs, give common greetings and recite numbers so the Ford engineers could isolate the individual phoneme, or the basic unit of speech.

What all this means is that in China, Sync can understand all the accents that are such a part of Mandarin. So it doesn't matter whether a Focus purchaser is from Beijing where the "er" sound is added to the end of words, or a southerner who tends to blur the distinction between consonant sounds like "sh" and "s", the Sync will sort it out.

All this got me pondering how Karen the Aussie voice girl might find things over here in Newzild.

It could be said that we have a wider variety of accents and dialects here than the Australians do - they range from the rolling rrrrs in Southland to the often unintelligible language that's quickly developing in Auckland.

But unfortunately our new vehicle market isn't big enough for us to have our own Karen, so we're having to pretend we're Australian.

Just this once.

But let's hope that the near future doesn't see us having to ask Karen to play a new hit song called Fish 'n Chips - otherwise with our fush 'n chups rather than feesh 'n cheeps dialect, we'll be goners.

Taranaki Daily News