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, 2019

There are now numerous forms of technology that can hear us speak, understand what we say and then issue an appropriate response. We've all had a conversation with our smartphone, and what with Alexa and co being welcomed into households all over the world, we spend more and more time talking to robots rather than our friends and family. 

This kind of technolgy has now been implemented into car design, and several of the latest generation of cars hitting the roads feature some form of voice control, allowing you to operate a number of functions solely with voice commands. 


It can be a very useful tool when you're driving alone, as it means your car can take care of the kind of tasks, such as adjusting the climate control or changing radio station, that would usually result in you taking your eyes off the road.

This handy guide to voice control will give you all the details on this up and coming new tech and it's various uses - read on to find out more.

What can you use in-car voice control for?

Exactly what you can do with in-car voice control will vary from car to car – depending on the model and the optional extras you’ve specified. Generally, the main functions you'll be able to control with the power of you voice are centered 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 recieve 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.

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, with many accents not being understood. These systems would often fail to understand even the most basic voice commands and would prove to be nothing other than an infuriating distration 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 fitted. 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

Lots of new cars are compatible with Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. These are ‘screen mirroring’ functions that transfer simplified versions of your smartphone’s operating system onto the car's display. Both Google and Apple versions have voice-recognition functionality built into this, 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 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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