BMW Aims For Cars to Take E-mail Dictation

BMW has developed a prototype system that allows drivers to compose full-text e-mails and text messages using voice commands. Unlike voice-activation options in existing BMWs, the technology relies on speech-recognition algorithms that offer drivers, as well as passengers, freedom to dictate original messages from over a million recognized words in the database.

The main novelty is that you can compose e-mails with the same ease of use that you would have with a PC in an office setting--without taking your eyes off of the road or using your hands. You respond to e-mail by dictating out loud what you want to say while functions, such as deleting, moving, or replacing text. For millions of workers who otherwise waste a large percentage of their time driving every day, being able to send and receive e-mails safely while commuting would represent an obvious boost in productivity.

The system, which could be sold as an option in production models within three years, as part of the company's plans to develop voice-activated commands to operate any function that drivers must otherwise activate today by hand. For example, the German luxury carmaker expects eventually to allow drivers to enter search queries on the Internet and to hear search results read out loud by using voice commands as well.

BMW's voice-to-text e-mail technology complements options that BMW already offers. With BMW's ConnectedDrive, for example, you can connect your Blackberry to the dashboard console with a Bluetooth connection and the audio system reads as you drive. When the car is not in motion, it is possible read the full texts of the e-mails from a Blackberry inbox on the car's dashboard screen. For the iPhone, BMW will offer an app with which drivers can open and lock their car remotely.

Other carmakers are seeking to widen their in-car communications options as well, of course. In the mainstream car sector, allows for selected smartphone applications to run on a dashboard console. With Ford's , drivers can select routes for GPS-guided navigation and music. Ford also plans for Sync to read e-mail and text messages out loud and to allow drivers to dictate messages in three to five years time, although it has not yet demonstrated a prototype that does this like BMW has.

GM says it is developing a that will let drivers send and receive text messages and Facebook updates using only their voices. GM said it plans to offer the system with its OnStar in-car system and service during the first half of the year and will offer the compatible smart phone apps through Android Market.