Toyota Motor Corp.'s New Lexus RX cross/utility vehicle debuting next year will be the first in the U.S. to offer casual-speech software with its voice-recognition navigation system, sources tell Ward's.

The casual-speech system is different from other voice-recognition technologies on the market because it does not require users to memorize canned phrases to activate certain functions.

The RX's system likely will come from Toyota's long-time navigation supplier, Denso Corp. Ward's is told the software will be supplied to Denso by Voice Box Technologies Inc. of Bellevue, WA.

Mike Marshall, director-automotive emerging technologies for J.D. Power & Associates, considers the introduction of a casual-speech system an important step in increasing the usability of in-vehicle voice-recognition technology.

Marshall, who oversees J.D. Power's annual navigation-system study, also expects the new software to increase user satisfaction, noting current in-vehicle voice-recognition systems often get low marks because of their inability to understand what is being said.

Unlike other voice-recognition software, which tries to understand every word spoken to activate a particular function, Marshall says casual-speech works by picking up key words or phrases.

Meanwhile, Toyota's all-new Venza CUV will debut Denso's vastly improved sixth-generation navigation system, minus the casual-speech software. The auto maker, for the time being, wants to reserve the new technology for its premium Lexus lineup, Ward's is told.

In detailing the new system, John Lum, senior manager-sales for Denso International America Inc.'s California office, admits the sheer number of memorized commands needed to operate Denso's previous-generation voice-activated navigation system was overwhelming and often resulted in erroneous understanding.

“If you press the talk button, it just says, ‘Please say command,’” he says of the old system. “It's listening for one out of hundreds of commands.”

To counter this, Denso's latest navigation system is designed with a new voice engine that improves recognition capability. It also offers a more user-friendly indexing of voice commands.

Another new feature is “automatic complete,” which saves a user from having to precisely spell out a word or phrase when searching for a point-of-interest or address. This comes in handy if the user is not sure how to spell a tricky name.

For example, Denso's system will find all spellings of Walmart, even if the name uses the star symbol. French- and Spanish-language recognition also is new.

Additionally, Denso has reduced the number of steps necessary for a driver to pair his phone with the Bluetooth wireless system. “It's one step,” Lum says.

“Once connected to a compatible phone, it will download all your contact information and automatically voice-enable all of your contacts for easy dialing by voice.”

However, each phone works differently, and a single transfer protocol, which the auto industry is working to develop, is something that is needed, he says.

Bluetooth Audio is new for Denso's latest navigation system, as well, allowing users to wirelessly connect their Bluetooth-compatible MP3 player and control play and pause functions through the vehicle's head unit.

Denso's original nav system for Toyota debuted in the '98 Lexus LS and GS models. The supplier will roll out its Gen 6 system as a running change to the Camry lineup and as part of the coming mid-cycle change to the Avalon large sedan.

The Avalon, Lum notes, still uses Denso's third-generation navigation system due to a lack of engineering resources available when the car was last redesigned as an '05 model.


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