Stuttgart - The latest generation of the LINGUATRONIC voice-operated control system is entering series production with the 2009 S-Class. Instead of saying the town and street separately as before, drivers can speak the desired destination as a single command - for example "Stuttgart, Epplestraße". The system immediately begins to work out the route, only pausing to enquire whether a house number is to be entered as well. In Germany, LINGUATRONIC understands around 80,000 town names and 470,000 street names entered in this way. This new, particularly convenient destination input works in six languages and more than 15 European countries.
A dialogue with LINGUATRONIC is practically a person-to-person affair. Around a dozen female speakers and one male speaker lent their voices to the S-Class, recording the individual words, phrases, numerical sequences and names which the system almost instantly joins together into easily understood information and instructions as the situation requires when interacting with the driver. The "voices of the S-Class" come from various European countries, where the ladies - and one man – concerned work for radio and TV stations or synchronising studios.
Scientists spent more than two decades working on the development of a computer-based voice recognition system. In 1996 Mercedes-Benz was the first automobile brand to offer such a system in a car - though initially only to operate the onboard telephone. Voice-operated control has come on in leaps and bounds since then: the times when town and street names had to be spelled out are long gone. When controlling the telephone, audio and navigation system, the latest version of LINGUATRONIC, which Mercedes-Benz offers in various model series, works on the principle of whole-word input.
In the case of the S-Class, Mercedes engineers use the term "one-shot input" to describe the currently most advanced development stage of the system, where
the town and street names can be spoken as a direct sequence.
This new procedure currently works for the following languages and countries:
German: Germany, Austria and Switzerland
English: Great Britain, Gibraltar and Ireland
French: France, Monaco, Belgium and Switzerland
Italian: Italy, San Marino, Vatican City and Switzerland
Dutch: Netherlands, Belgium
Voice-operated control is not just about understanding the driver's wishes, but also about entering a dialogue with him. The system responds in a friendly voice if it has failed to understand something, for example, or if it wants the driver to confirm certain operating commands. While it would be perfectly possible to generate these voices synthetically - i.e. by computer - Mercedes-Benz holds a low opinion of such "lifeless" announcements, preferring a person-to-person dialogue for its voice-operated control system.
Mercedes-Benz and its system partners have contracted professional female speakers and one male speaker who lend their voices to the voice-operated control and navigation systems of Mercedes models. For each language, it takes three days to record the words, phrases, numerical sequences and names written on around 100 manuscript pages as the basis for the route guidance and voice operation dialogue.
The system joins thousands of individual recordings together for the dialogue
During the recording work in the studio, each of the well over 1000 "takes" is individually saved and encoded, so that the computer is rapidly able to access the relevant command rapidly as the situation requires, adding other information to it if necessary. It is therefore important for the speakers to use the same intonation throughout, so that the information sounds immediate and natural when the system formulates its responses from various acoustic fragments, e.g. telling the driver where to turn off, which lane to take and which road to choose.
The navigation system "speaks" more than a dozen languages
The specialists at the Mercedes development centre make a fundamental distinction between the voice-operated controls with which the car obeys its driver's every word, so to speak, and the language information used for route guidance. The navigation system in the S-Class "speaks" more than a dozen languages, which are available in the different national versions of the unit. These include Danish, German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, US-English, Japanese and Chinese.
When it comes to interacting with drivers and giving them directions, Mercedes-Benz primarily uses female voices. The only exception is Turkey, where drivers prefer to receive directions from a male voice. The "voices of the S-Class" also work for radio stations, synchronise films, do voiceovers for advertising spots, read talking books and perform in theatres.