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BMW Message dictation function
The new generation of the BMW Navigation system Professional adds various new speech functions to the BMW ConnectedDrive Mobile Office portfolio, most notably a dictation function that employs a full speech recognition system to simply transcribe the driver’s words. The dictated text can then be sent by SMS or email. There is furthermore a voice memo function for making recordings up to two minutes long, which can then either be sent in an email or archived. Meanwhile, the new, more intuitive voice control allows virtually all functions of the BMW Navigation system Professional to be operated more simply, easily, quickly and, most importantly, safely than ever.
Dictation function – writing by speaking.
People are communicating increasingly by email or SMS, both privately and for business. The BMW Mobile Office functions already made it possible to have messages from a Bluetooth-connected mobile device displayed in the vehicle and read out. With the arrival of an automotive world first in the form of the dictation function, this feature is now complemented by a full speech recognition system. For the first time, this gives drivers the ability to dictate text freely and compose short text-based messages simply by saying what they wish to write.
Using a mobile device to write messages while at the wheel is a dangerous distraction from what’s happening on the road, which is precisely why it is prohibited in many countries. The dictation function changes all that, however, as it allows short emails or text messages to be composed quickly, easily and, above all, safely while on the move all by the power of speech – with no need for drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel or their eyes off the road.
The multilingual dictation function can recognize text read out in six languages at present. Just as with similar desktop applications, punctuation marks and instructions such as “new line” can be dictated, too, if the driver wishes to obtain an end result that is grammatically correct and easy to read.
The speech recognition technology is supplied by the company Nuance under the name Dragon Drive! Messaging, and the recognition work is performed on a remote server while the text is still being dictated. The sheer volume of the cloud server’s vocabulary is of tremendous benefit for a full speech recognition system, as it allows it to draw on millions of words without having to take up any memory space or computing power in the vehicle. Just a few seconds after dictation has been completed, the transcribed text will appear in the display and can also be read out if desired. Needless to say, drivers have a number of easy-to-use editing tools at their disposal for conveniently putting the final touches to emails and SMS messages.
Voice memos and more intuitive voice control.
The range of office functions offered by BMW ConnectedDrive has been expanded by another speech-based feature, too. The voice memo function, in contrast to the dictation function, allows the driver to make direct voice recordings of up to two minutes in length and send them straight away by email if required.
The great beauty of this is that it allows the driver to make a quick note of any ideas or to-do lists with an additional facility for forwarding them to whoever they may concern – without any great distraction from what’s happening on the road. Alternatively, drivers can simply take the recorded memos with them on a USB stick when they leave the vehicle.
The improved voice control offered by the Navigation system Professional is designed to enable more intuitive operation of practically all functions by allowing the driver to phrase commands or questions in whole sentences (in German or English at present) and call up multiple functions with a single utterance, in the same way that the navigation destination can be entered with just one statement. The result is a voice control system that is even more intuitive and easy and convenient to use, making it safer too.
All the driver has to do to phone someone, for example, is say the command: “Connect me with John Smith”, whereupon the system recognises both the desire to make a phone call and the person the driver wishes to speak to. This works regardless of which order the first and surnames are registered in. The system then double-checks that the displayed number should be dialled before placing the call. The already sophisticated method of destination entry has also been further simplified and speeded up.
The prompt “Navigate to London, 63 Park Lane” is sufficient to complete entry of the navigation destination. It is even possible to start composing an email or SMS message by voice control regardless of the current position in the menu structure. This can also be done by stating the intended recipient’s name when in Contacts and selecting their email address, which the system then automatically adds to the address field.
All that now remains to do is to enter the subject and text of the message using the dictation function. The upshot of this is that speech can now be used to activate or initiate virtually all functions and actions – from tuning in to a radio station to modifying route criteria. What’s more, the system is as unerring in its answers to questions such as “How do I adjust the sound settings?” and “Are there any traffic messages” (when in the map view) as it is with system-related queries instigated with a simple “Help” or “What can I say here?”
Voice control at the BMW Group.
The BMW Group has built up many years of experience with voice control of vehicle functions. The introduction of full-word commands in 2006 was followed by a further milestone in 2009, when the BMW Group became the world’s first carmaker to offer a system capable of understanding an entire address – i.e. town, house number and street – read out in one go. By so doing, the BMW Group once again set a new standard for rapid, precise entry of navigation destinations.
The voice-controlled search for music on the internal hard drive introduced in 2009 was another unique feature, and in 2010, voice control was extended again to include external music players. The overriding aim of voice control is to facilitate easy, quick and, most importantly, safe operation of the increasingly complex array of infotainment functions, especially for navigation, entertainment and telephony/communication applications.
BMW iDrive Touch Controller
The introduction of the BMW iDrive Touch sees the development team at the BMW Group integrating a touch-sensitive pad into the iDrive system’s central control unit, the iDrive Controller, for the very first time. Measuring 45 mm across, the multi-touch surface makes certain in-vehicle control functions more intuitive, faster and easier to use.
Incorporating the touchpad into the iDrive Controller means it is ergonomically positioned where it is easy to reach: with entry, selection and confirmation being performed in the usual way using the control knob’s rotate-and-press mechanism, the direct proximity to the touchpad means there is no need for any fumbling around.
The touch surface will initially be made available for the Chinese market from July 2012 and will add various convenience-enhancing functions to the iDrive Controller, including handwriting recognition as well as navigating in maps. One year later, availability of the iDrive Touch and these new functions will be extended to almost all other markets. At this point, a function for surfing the internet is also due to be added, which will allow the mouse pointer to be controlled in exactly the same way as on many handheld devices.
The handwriting recognition function enables characters to be entered with the finger by simply “writing” them on the surface of the touchpad. Whereas previously this could only be done with the “Speller” – a circular arrangement of letters in the display – by turning the control knob, the touch-sensitive surface now recognises the letters and the Speller instantly jumps to the right point of the alphabet. To further reduce driver distraction, a voice output repeats the character that has been recognised.
The handwriting recognition function is a tremendous boon for the Chinese market especially, which is why the BMW iDrive Touch Controller is making its debut there. With several thousand characters and as many as 21 strokes per character, entering text is a far more complex task than with the Latin alphabet. The reason the iDrive Touch Controller is of such great benefit in China is that the sequence of strokes for starting Chinese characters is basically set in stone, meaning that the selection of characters is already narrowed down considerably with the very first stroke entered by the driver. The choice is further refined with each additional stroke, allowing rapid selection of the relevant character.
Apart from recognising handwriting, the iDrive Touch also makes it possible to navigate freely within the route map shown in the display and zoom in on it, too. The scale is changed using the two-finger pinch gesture already familiar from many laptops und smartphones. If there is a traffic jam ahead, for example, the driver can adjust the scale of the displayed portion of map using the touchpad, move the view to the hold-up and take a look at the suggested alternative route.
The driver can also use touch control to mark the points of interest (POIs) stored in the map, then press the control knob to confirm his choice and display more detailed information. The later version of the iDrive Touch will furthermore allow the mouse pointer to be moved across the display while surfing the internet, just like on a home PC. Pressing the iDrive Controller will then have the same effect as clicking with the mouse.