Voice activated car debuts at Birmingham

Road warriors could benefit from improved vehicle safety following the introduction of hands-free, voice-activated controls by leading car makers at this week's Car Show in Birmingham.

At the top end of the toys-for-boys market is the new Jaguar-S TYPE saloon which made its world debut yesterday. The car enables the driver to keep his hands firmly on the wheel, while controlling devices such as the radio, CD-player, phone and air conditioning by voice.

Other high-tech features include Jaguar's 'computer-active technology suspension', rain-sensing wipers and a satellite navigation computer that warns drivers about bottle-necks and congestion on the roads via the TrafficMaster system. The car, which was developed at Jaguar's Coventry engineering centre, goes on sale in March 1999. It is the first production car with voice-activated technology of its kind.

"Voice activated controls typify the practical application of high technology and innovation of the new Jaguar S-TYPE saloon," said Jaguar's spokesman Martin Broomer.

While Jaguar showed off its dream machine in the UK, Ford US unveiled its high-tech concept car, the Lifestyle Demonstration Vehicle. Based on the Taurus sedan, the vehicle includes voice-activated controls, a portable sub-notebook with email, a printer in the glove compartment and a collision avoidance system.The car was developed at the company's Detroit centre.

But, says Ford, in-car gizmos are not consumer friendly enough for them to be widely accepted by drivers. The reliability and robustness of computer and electronic devices must also be improved if they are to withstand extreme temperatures, vibrations, accidents and last for a decade. Analysts claim the US market for in-car technology trails the European and Japanese markets by about five years. The market for multimedia, vehicle safety and control systems will be worth $30 bn (£17.6 bn) by 2011.


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