What is voice control?

You may not be able to drive using voice commands but you can control many in-car systems with your voice. Keep reading to find out how

BuyaCar team
Oct 23, 2020

These days, you aren't restricted to having a conversation with your friends and family. You can talk to your phone or your computer, while many of us have welcomed Alexa and the like into our homes as well.

In recent years the idea of voice control has become the be all and end all of convenience. You don't even have to 'Google it' any more, you can just ask a robot to do it for you. We mentioned phones, but this technology has also begun to appear in cars, and we think it could be a very good idea.

Where in day to day life, asking Siri to reel off your to do list for the day is convenient, asking your car to turn up the volume or cool the temperature down will also have a big impact on road safety. You don't have to take your eyes off the road to faff with controls anymore; it can all be done automatically with just the sound of your voice.

If this all sounds rather exciting, then you might be interested in purchasing a car with voice control. This handy guide to will give you all the details on this up and coming new tech and it's various uses - read on to find out more, or click the button below to search for used cars equipped with voice control features.

What can you use in-car voice control for?

Exactly what you can do with in-car voice control depends on the car you're driving. Generally, the main functions that can be adjusted via voice control are centred around the media system – typically changing the volume, skipping tracks or selecting a radio station. In some cases you'll also be able to make and receive phone calls as well as programme the sat-nav and air-conditioning.

Really upmarket cars with their own Internet connection can offer even more sophisticated voice control functions, allowing you to check the weather, search for a parking spot or even make a table reservation at a restaurant. You can also often dictate text messages or have the system read text messages or emails out to you - we've all seen the adverts.

What you can’t do is control the primary functions of your car using your voice - such as accelerating or steering - for safety reasons. This means you can’t change gear, use cruise control or activate advanced self-driving/driver assist functions like Volvo’s Pilot Assist or Tesla’s Autopilot via voice operation.

In general terms, the idea of in-car voice control is to take away the distractions that come with driving and removing the need for you to divert your attention away from the road.

How easy is voice recognition software to use?

Voice recognition software in cars has been around for a surprisingly long time (since the 2000s in some cars), but until recently it was quite an awkward experience, requiring the driver to use a specific set of voice commands in the hope of being understood - nothing but the perfect Queen's English would suffice.

These systems would often fail to understand even the most basic voice commands and would prove to be nothing other than an infuriating distraction that would be swiftly forgotten about.

Now, though, many car manufacturers are using much more sophisticated software that recognises far more natural, flowing conversational voice commands. Some, such as Mercedes’ MBUX system, even start to ‘learn’ speech patterns, so you can ask it something like “is it T shirt weather this weekend?”, responding by providing you with the weather forecast.

As with other notable in-car assistant systems – and home assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa - you can wake MBUX with a trigger phrase, in this case ‘Hey Mercedes’. Other systems that offer similar levels of sophistication to MBUX include BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant - one party trick of this is to answer questions on the functions of the car like ‘what does this warning light mean?’ - Ford’s Sync 3 and Lexus’ Dynamic Voice Recognition.

Voice recognition in cars

You’ll normally find there’s a button on the steering wheel to activate voice recognition systems when they are available. Older systems typically require a specific command prompt to get certain features to work, and you’ll often be prompted either by an audible or written instruction as to which terms will get the system to act.

More modern software actively learns how a driver speaks, and picks up certain vocabulary that can make it much easier to use. The best systems can respond to simple requests such as ‘find me a nearby restaurant’.

The newest systems will require some sort of prompt but, instead of a button, these respond to a trigger word or phrase, much like Alexa or Siri do.

Android and iPhone voice control

The majority of new cars built since the mid 2010s have also been compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. These are ‘screen mirroring’ functions that transfer simplified versions of your smartphone’s operating system onto the car's dashboard display. Both Google and Apple versions have voice-recognition functionality built in, allowing you to access and use a variety of apps via simple speech while you’re driving, generally by pressing the ‘talk’ button in your car (normally found on the steering wheel).

Remember, though, that these systems only control apps and systems on your phone – so you may inadvertently end up using a lot of your phone data if you use voice-activated sat-nav via Android Auto or CarPlay.

The advantage of these systems is that smartphone makers are constantly expanding the functionality and availability of speech-activated apps via their systems, meaning your car should be able to follow more and more voice instructions in time.


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