Bieber about to get the red light

By Liz Dobson

Ford's hands-free technology will put you in control - when they solve the accent problem.

Ford Focus
Ford Focus

You're driving along and a song from Justin Bieber/One Direction/latest one hit wonder starts playing on the radio. You frantically hit buttons on the stereo to change stations when all you really want to do is yell "make the Biebster stop".

In the past, using voice control to change stations would be telling your teen sitting next to you, who loves Justin and is singing along, to "turn off that song", but Ford has come to the rescue.

Fitted into the latest Focus models in New Zealand will be SYNC, hands-free technology with which drivers can manage their mobile phone or digital media player either by steering wheel-mounted controls or voice commands.

First introduced in North America, SYNC is now installed in more than four million Ford vehicles globally and was recently launched here and in Australia. Using Bluetooth technology, SYNC can wirelessly connect a range of mobile phones to the new Focus through a process called pairing. Once paired, SYNC will automatically transfer all the names and numbers in the phone's contact list to the in-vehicle system and whenever the phone is brought back into the vehicle.

A microphone inside the cabin lets you use you mobile phone hands-free while driving. To make a phone call you pushed a button on the steering wheel and saying someone's name.

SYNC also allows the same features on the phone - including caller ID, call waiting, a signal strength and phone battery charge icons - and could recognise the user's ringtone on supported phones and play it when a call came in.

The system can also give the driver full hands-free control over portable media players and USB storage devices. You can even browse your music collection by using voice commands. SYNC can also put together a playlist of the music the driver is in the mood for with the "play similar" command. But don't expect Justin Bieber to be on any playlist.

At Ford Australia's Melbourne headquarters recently, an engineer explains to motoring writers how the system works, "and it even recognises the Australian accent now".

"What about the New Zealand accent?" I asked.

Cue jokes from Aussie colleagues about saying fish and chips and the number six.

The Ford engineer looks at me blankly. So that's a no.

Having used voice-activated systems before - Mazda's new CX5 has it for its navigation system - I know you either had to speak v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y or use a tone favoured by the royal family. But as I sit in one of the Focus cars in Ford HQ with the engineer to test SYNC, he assures me that I'd find it simple.

"Push the voice-activate button on the steering wheel," he said, "wait for the ear symbol on the stereo to light up and ask for Kylie Minogue."

I look at him. Kylie? Really?

But I follow the instructions - and had to repeat the Kylie request three times as it didn't recognise my Kiwi accent so I revert to the Queen voice and soon Kylie is chirping away.

Next task is ringing up the big boss of Ford Australia, Bob Graziano, using SYNC. Really, I implored the engineer, 'Graz-i-a-no'? SYNC couldn't under me saying 'Kylie' couldn't we just try the HQ receptionist or even Kylie Minogue?

Again, hit the button on the steering wheel, wait for the ear to light up and say: "Ring Bob Graziano's phone", slowly. It works and soon I'm leaving a voice message for the Ford boss.

In America, where Graziano is from, the SYNC system has been expanded with features that can contact emergency services automatically in the event of a serious accident with an airbag deployment or fuel pump shut-off.

Before initiating the emergency call, the vehicle's SYNC system would provide a 10-second window to allow the driver or passenger to decide whether to cancel the call. If not manually cancelled within the 10-second window, SYNC would place the emergency call.

When emergency services answered the call, an introductory message would relay the accident location co-ordinates based on the on-board GPS unit.

The service wasn't planned for Australasia yet. And SYNC won't be able to prevent Justin Bieber playing on your stereo. Yet.

- NZ Herald

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