Hearing Voices?

Voice-recognition systems still aren’t clear for automakers

Automakers may be listening to the voice of the customer, but the Siri, Bluetooth and other voice-recognition systems installed in their vehicles might not understand what the customers are actually saying.

In recent years, more vehicles have been equipped with built-in voice recognition and activation systems, mostly because drivers want the same convenience that the voice command technology provides by their smartphones. Almost one in four U.S. drivers said they use these voice recognition systems in their cars daily, and 53% said they access one at least once a week, up from 47% two years ago, according to a survey from Strategy Analytics, a research firm.1

The performance of the voice-recognition systems in vehicles falls short of customer expectations in many cases, however.

According to the recent J.D. Power 2014 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study, built-in voice recognition surpassed problems with wind noise as the problem most frequently cited by new vehicle owners.2

Other issues consumers cited most often are that the systems don’t recognize or read verbal commands (63%), don’t recognize names and words (44%), and don’t recognize numbers (31%).3

Can you say, "Disappointing"?

"You’ve got this highly engineered, wonderfully operating, super comfortable, great-looking car whose voice commands don’t work well," said Jack Nerad, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "That can spoil the whole experience—to the point of making the car unsalable."4

Adding to the frustration is that these problems aren’t easily fixed, and drivers often must learn to live with the systems and find workarounds.

"Voice recognition and device connectivity are often inherent to the technology design and cannot be fixed at the dealership, creating a high level of angst among new-vehicle owners," said Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global automotive at J.D. Power.5

To bypass the systems, drivers can use knobs and controls on the steering wheel or dashboard, but this still contributes to dissatisfaction. "Manufacturers have good intentions, but ultimately their efforts yield poor results," VanNieuwkuyk said.6

Trying to improve

Manufacturers say they are boosting the sonic quality of microphones and experimenting with their placement in the vehicles’ interiors. Vocabularies are being expanded beyond the latest systems’ 2 million words. For some brands, natural speech recognition systems also are being incorporated to interpret conversational language and recognize and act on key words.7

"You talk like you would talk to a human," said Arnd Weil, vice president of Nuance Automotive, a provider of voice systems to major automakers including Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC. "You say, ‘Navigate to my office,’ and the system figures it out."8

Automakers are hurrying to correct this technology and make it reliable, knowing if they can fix the problems, buyers will pay a premium for these conveniences. By 2020, it’s estimated that 68 million vehicles worldwide will have voice controls, up 84% from 37 million in 2014, according to research from HIS Automotive.9

Consumers won’t pay a lot for the technology, especially if there are doubts the systems work, according to the J.D. Power report. The report said 70% of new-vehicle owners indicate interest in built-in voice recognition, but when given a cost of $500 for this technology, purchase intent drops to 44%.10

VanNieuwkuyk suggested automakers "really need to go back to the basics and design these systems so drivers can keep their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road and their mind on the drive."11

Distracted drivers

Regardless of whether this voice technology keeps driver eyes focused on the road and hands clasped on the wheel, safety concerns do remain.

Another recent study suggested any voice-activation system can create serious distractions and safety risks when drivers use the technologies to navigate, send and receive text messages, and use Facebook or Twitter.

The research, sponsored by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and conducted by the University of Utah, found faltering voice-activation systems flustered drivers to the point of their "cursing the systems out" for misunderstanding words and commands, said David Strayer, a neuroscientist who led the research.12

Many neuroscientists say safety risk comes from cognitive distraction—when the driver’s brain gets diverted from what’s happening on the road.

"We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead," said Bob Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA. "We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction."13

Experts suggested these voice-activation systems should be limited to driving-related tasks such as adjusting the vehicle’s temperature control or controlling the radio.

They say social interaction, such as texting or talking on the phone, is not integral to driving and should be restricted.

"Keep the mind on driving," Strayer said. The technology "should be basically for supporting the task of driving, not infotainment, not texting, not Facebook," he said.14

—compiled by Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. Keith Naughton, "Autos Fuddled by Accents Send Ford, VW Seeking Fix," Bloomberg News, Sept. 7, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/l23o2cq.
  2. Entertainment Close-Up, "J.D. Power Rolls Out Its 2014 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study," Sept. 10, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/le5uadt.
  3. Jerry Hirsch, "Car Technology Systems Failing Consumers, J.D. Power Study Finds," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 4, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/plk7hdj.
  4. Naughton, "Autos Fuddled by Accents Send Ford, VW Seeking Fix," see reference 1.
  5. Entertainment Close-Up, "J.D. Power Rolls Out Its 2014 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study," see reference 2.
  6. Hirsch, "Car Technology Systems Failing Consumers, J.D. Power Study Finds," see reference 3.
  7. Naughton, "Autos Fuddled by Accents Send Ford, VW Seeking Fix," see reference 1.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Hirsch, "Car Technology Systems Failing Consumers, J.D. Power Study Finds," see reference 3.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Matt Richtell, "Voice Activation Systems Distract Drivers, Study Says," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/mxveql8.
  13. oseph B. White, "Voice Controls in Cars Really Are Driving You to Distraction," Wall Street Journal, Oct. 7, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/oqr3fed.
  14. Richtell, "Voice Activation Systems Distract Drivers, Study Says," see reference 12.

Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Gideon Roth.

RESIDENCE: Kiryat Ata, Israel.

EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in the study of Israel from the University of Haifa in Israel.

INTRODUCTION TO QUALITY: Roth refused an offer to work in a quality-oriented position for his first employer. At the time, he claimed, "I’ll never work in quality." That outlook changed, and he’s been in the field of quality for more than 30 years.

CURRENT JOB: Director of quality and regulatory at Cabiran Ltd., an aluminum investment foundry.

OTHER NOTEWORTHY JOBS: Most of Roth’s past jobs revolved around quality. The jobs he liked most were in the aerospace industry, where he works today. Roth said he likes the international aspects related to quality and finds a lot of similar thinking among colleagues around the globe. Roth said it’s also interesting to see the small differences. From these observations, he said you can learn a lot and improve your small corner of the world.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: International liaison for ASQ’s Aviation, Space and Defense Division. In the past, Roth has served on the membership committee and has represented his country at the annual World Partners Program meetings held during ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement.

ACTIVITIES/ACHIEVEMENTS: For several years, Roth was one of the managers of the Israeli Society for Quality, chairing the International Affairs Committee. This committee signed mutual agreements with several other national societies. Roth also was chair of the Israel International Quality Conference in 2012 in Jerusalem.

PUBLISHED WORKS: Roth has written several magazine articles on aerospace topics.

RECENT HONORS: Roth was part of the 2013 class of ASQ fellows.

PERSONAL: Divorced. Two adult daughters.

FAVORITE WAYS TO RELAX: Hiking and long walks.

QUALITY QUOTE: Everything in the world—with all of its different nations, cultures and concepts—seeks and needs quality in products, services and life.


Teams to Tout Quality Tools at Upcoming Event

Ten teams from K-12 and higher education institutions will show how quality tools affected staff and student achievements at the 22nd annual National Quality Education Conference, Nov. 16-17 in Milwaukee.

The event, sponsored by ASQ, will shine the spotlight on the finalists for the 2014 Education Team Excellence Recognition Process. The finalists are:

  • Chicago Public Schools.
  • Deer Valley Unified School District, Phoenix.
  • Denver Public Schools (two teams).
  • Ingenium Charter Elementary and Middle School, Canoga Park, CA.
  • Kimberly Area School District, Wisconsin.
  • Ribbaschool, Gränna, Sweden.
  • Siegrist Elementary, Platte City, MO.
  • Universidad Tecnol—gica Nacional-Facultad Regional Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, and Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in China (study abroad program).

To read more about the finalists and details on the conference, visit http://asq.org/nqec.

ASQ News

CALL FOR PAPERS ASQ’s Audit Division has issued a call for papers for next year’s ASQ Audit Conference Oct. 29-30, 2015, in Reno, NV. Abstracts are due May 29. For more information about the call for papers and the 24th annual event, visit www.asq.org/audit or email Lance Coleman at lance.coleman@westpharma.com.

NEW CASE STUDY A new case study on mystery shopping, a tool used to measure the quality of service and compliance with standards and regulations, was released by ASQ’s Knowledge Center. To access this members-only content, visit http://asq.org/knowledge-center/case-studies-nigerian-banks-mystery-shopping.html.

NIST APPOINTMENT The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) appointed Keith Greenaway, vice president of the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board, to serve on the quality infrastructure committee of the Organization of Scientific Area Committees. NIST is working with the forensic science community to establish the new Organization for Scientific Area Committees to coordinate development of standards and guidelines for forensic science practitioners and improve forensic science in the United States. The committee held its first meeting in August.

By the Numbers


The number of organizations that will receive World Class Global Performance Excellence Awards from the Asia Pacific Quality Organization (APQO) at the 20th annual APQO/International Conference on Quality, Nov. 23-26 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The organizations being honored are located in eight Asian and Pacific Rim countries. For more information, visit www.apqo.org.

Short Runs

THE SOCIETY OF Automotive Engineers 2015 World Congress and Exhibition will be held April 21-23, 2015, in Detroit. Visit www.sae.org/congress for more information.

EIGHTEEN PEOPLE WERE honored by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) last month for their contributions to national and international standardization activities. ANSI recognized the award recipients during a ceremony held in conjunction with World Standards Week 2014 in October in Washington, D.C. For a list of the recipients, visit http://tinyurl.com/kpgw8do.

STEPHEN GRAHAM, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, has received the ASTM International Award of Merit. The award, which includes the accompanying title of ASTM fellow, is the highest organizational recognition for individual contributions to standards activities.

A NEW PRESIDENT of the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) has been named. Donald L. Zink is the senior science advisor for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) in College Park, MD. Before that, he served as a senior food scientist in the office of food safety within CFSAN.

THE NINTH ANNUAL Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sports Analytics Conference will be held Feb. 27-28, 2015, in Boston. Find more details at www.sloansportsconference.com.


A Guide for Your Celebration Plans

An online self-assessment tool that helps you evaluate your organization’s culture of quality is one of the focal points of World Quality Month festivities throughout November.

The self-assessment tool grew from the ASQ/Forbes Insights culture of quality research, which resulted in the white paper, "Culture of Quality: Accelerating Growth and Performance in the Enterprise."

A link to the free report and assessment tool can be found at the World Quality Month website, www.worldqualitymonth.org, which serves as a hub for ideas and content to promote quality and plan activities during the month-long celebration.

The website, made possible with support from ASQ and Booz Allen Hamilton, also includes a complete step-by-step celebration guide and tool kit with resources that can be downloaded to help you spread the word about the event, now in its fifth year. In addition, the website features:

  • Videos and links to success stories from individuals and organizations around the world that demonstrate the importance of quality and how it makes a difference.
  • The chance to vote to determine the top three submissions to the #QualityIs contest. In October, people submitted their own definitions of quality via social media. Finalist names and submissions will be posted Nov. 5-19.
  • A link to a fun and informal quality personality quiz that lets you learn what makes you and your contributions unique. At www.qualitytoolquiz.com, you also can share your result on ASQ social media or print it to display.

For more information about the November-long event, visit www.worldqualitymonth.org.


Former Board Member Dies

Harold P. (Hal) Greenberg, a past member of ASQ’s Board of Directors, died last month in North Lauderdale, FL. He was 81.

Greenberg, an ASQ fellow who first joined the organization in 1958, was very active at ASQ’s local, regional and national levels.

He served in several positions including officer, committee and section chair during his long-time membership in ASQ’s Boston Section. At the national level, Greenberg was member or chair of several committees including the nominating, membership, examining and professional ethics. He was chair of ASQ’s Electronics and Communications Division, and member and committee chair of ASQ’s Biomedical Division. He also served as treasurer of ASQ’s Division Affairs Council and its administrative committee. He was elected to the board of directors in 1979.

The North East Quality Council presented Greenberg with its R. Shaw Goldthwait Award in 1985. Nine years later, he received ASQ’s Distinguished Service Medal.

He was an ASQ-certified quality engineer, reliability engineer, auditor and manager of quality/organizational excellence. He also was a licensed professional quality engineer in Massachusetts and California, and worked at several Boston-area companies during his career, including Northrop Nortronics, Polaroid Corp. and Sylvania.

For a complete obituary, visit http://brezniakrodman.com/obituary-archive/harold-greenberg.

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