Driver to car computer: Help!

Summary:Some people would rather run out of gas than sidle up to a stranger and ask directions. But a new breed of software is making it easier to navigate the streets anonymously, thanks to better voice-recognition technology.

Some people would rather run out of gas than sidle up to a stranger and ask directions.

But a new breed of software is making it easier to navigate the streets anonymously, thanks to better voice-recognition technology.



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One company, IVS Inc., is rolling out a voice-activated navigation system in June that gives directions after a driver spells out a street address or says the name of a local landmark.

The machine, called Avstar, also responds to such commands as "I'm lost" or "the road is blocked." In those cases, it gives alternate routes.

"I believe we are the last generation that will have devices that don't talk back to us," said Malcolm Hollombe, vice president of sales and marketing at IVS.

The foot-long, football-shaped device sits on the floor of a car. It's filled with a CD-ROM featuring maps of major metropolitan areas. It's also connected to a microphone that can be mounted on the visor, dash or seatbelt strap. An optional feature links the car to a satellite system. It costs about $1,200, plus an additional $250 for the satellite system.

Safer than a map
Hollombe said it's safer than looking at a map.

"It doesn't require you to take your hands off the steering wheel or your eyes off the road," he said.

Avstar is unique among navigation systems because it plugs into a cigarette lighter, meaning you can take the technology with you even if you drive a clunker.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), meanwhile, is demonstrating its navigation software in a convertible Jaguar.

That machine, which will fit into a car's radio, is based on the company's Windows CE operating system for small devices. Eventually the company is promising things such as remote access to voice mail through the machines.

A few glitches
Still, voice recognition has a long way to go. Microsoft has yet to roll out any voice-activated software, even though it has been showing the technology in demos for years.

And though IVS claims a 98 percent success rate, the software had trouble understanding several words on our trip.

One time, a driver requested "C-O-I-T," as in the San Francisco landmark Coit Tower. Avstar answered, "Did you say Chicken Coop?"

The driver quickly reset the software and eventually made it to Coit Tower.

Topics: Microsoft, Enterprise Software, Intel, Windows, Innovation

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