The CeBIT is not exactly the home turf for automotive vendors. Perhaps it was exactly for this reason why Ford’s Sync roll-out attracted much interest among computer nerds and IT managers as the typical CeBIT visitors. Offering a range of functionalities that well goes beyond just voice control and voice synthesis, Sync brings significant computing power into vehicles – on top of what already is integrated under the hoods.
Sync, running under Microsoft Windows CE operating system, aims at providing a simple-to use interface between driver and the car’s infotainment system, including consumer electronics devices connected to the vehicle’s head unit by means of Bluetooth or USB. The system accepts spoken instructions by the driver. It also can turn written text messages into spoken language. For this purpose, Ford uses speech recognition technology from Nuance Communications.
What distinguishes the European Sync version from the US version (which is already on the market for quite some time) is that had to be modified for European conditions: Different languages, different date formats and different dimension units. The European Sync version understands 19 different languages and even dialects.
Sync allows controlling navigation systems, air conditioning, and infotainment systems. It connects to mobile phones via Bluetooth and offers hand-free functionality. In addition to the usual functionality, it transfers the phone directory including photos into the vehicle’s head unit and displays the related data at the central display. A USB port connects MP3 players or the like, an SD card reader as well as Cinch receptacles can be used to connect to audio or video data sources.
On top of this, sync offers the functionality of a WiFi hotspot, supporting up to five different users inside the car. Mobile internet connection is achieved by means of a USB modem stick or a smartphone, coupled to Sync via Bluetooth. In that, Sync falls somewhat short of what for example Audi integrates into its top-of-the line vehicles – but at a much lower price. Another feature seems remarkable: The software is upgradeable by end users; upgrades are not reserved to official Ford dealers.
It was Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally himself who went to CeBIT to introduce the system – just like Audi CEO Rupert Stadler in person rolled out the car maker’s infotainment strategy at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas – a clear hint to the high importance automotive OEMs attribute to consumer electronics integration and internet connectivity.
Ford’s Sync will be available in Europe beginning 2012. Mulally said he expects 2 million vehicles to be equipped with the system by 2015.