Ford Adds Wake Word and Simultaneous Platform Support to SYNC 4 Voice Assistant
The next generation of Ford cars will include a more capable and flexible voice assistant platform, the company announced on Wednesday. The SYNC 4 infotainment system will use Ford’s proprietary software and simultaneously provide access to other voice assistants, among other major updates.
SYNC 4 Voice Assistant
The fourth generation of Ford’s SYNC system will be part of Ford’s models starting in 2020, although the company didn’t say which models will get the new version or when. Though the new platform will include over-the-air software updates so that Ford can patch and improve the system over time, it will remain within Ford’s control, rather than adopting a platform from one of the big tech companies.
The voice assistant in SYNC 4 is being carried over from the previous iteration of the platform, but is addressing some of the concerns and suggestions of Ford drivers, the company said. For instance, in addition to a touchscreen activation button, drivers will be able to activate the voice assistant by saying, “OK, Ford” if they prefer to keep their hands on the wheel. If the driver is concerned about privacy, they can turn off the wake word option and stick to the button to activate the assistant. The voice assistant, which doesn’t have a name, combines local assets and cloud computing so that it can operate even when it can’t access the internet.
The voice assistant can control the environment and media in the car, but because Ford is using its own operating system, it can’t download apps from Google Play or other app stores. Instead, it will keep using Applink, which lets the car’s system run apps already on a smartphone. Ford isn’t ignoring other automotive voice assistants, however. Not only can SYNC 4 use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, but it can also do so simultaneously. Applink and the smartphone’s voice assistant will be available at the same time, without having to switch from one to the other.
Conversation and Data
Ford made a point of highlighting the machine learning ability of SYNC 4 in their announcement, as well as its natural language speech recognition. The goal is for the car to learn and remember the preferences of drivers, even offering suggestions based on traffic and weather data.
Collecting and controlling this information has always been a sticking point for carmakers. That’s partly why most voice assistants have been an additional part of a car’s features, rather than directly integrated into the vehicle. Ford clearly sees the trade-off in resources as worthwhile, but other car manufacturers are starting to adjust their thinking. General Motors debuted a full integration with Amazon Alexa for some of its cars earlier this month, as did Volkswagen for the next Golf model just this week. As people use voice assistants more and more, the competing models of automotive voice assistants will play out in their own arena, with in-house models like Ford going up against Google, Apple, and Amazon to see who people want as their vocal helper on the road.