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Advances in automotive navigation systems

28 Apr 2015  | Oliver Jesorsky

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All these features make the task of determining a route even more complex. The system must determine whether alternate routes can be faster given current congestion levels. Though comparing multiple routes and traffic levels dramatically increases the amount of data being processed, drivers are going to expect results soon after they enter their request and continuous updates during route guidance.

Many options
Even without traffic updates, finding an address can be a challenging task. It's not uncommon for cities to have multiple streets with the same name, making it difficult for computers to help the driver select the right one. In Berlin, for example, there are nine roads with the same name. That's not the only challenge for international suppliers. In some countries in Asia, street names are rare. Instead, people routinely use the name of the building.

Spelling compounds this problem. Many drivers have trouble spelling street names in their hometown. That problem only gets worse when they travel. Navigation systems are being enhanced to help drivers find streets even if they don't have the correct spelling.

Voice-recognition technology is also helping make it easier for drivers to get to their desired points of interest. As accuracy has improved, voice systems are making a transition from strict commands to more natural-language instructions. This dynamic, point-of-interest functionality lets drivers start by saying "I'm hungry" to start a search of restaurants. The system will automatically begin scanning for nearby options. If desired, drivers can focus in on fast foods, sushi, coffee or other options.

At the same time, voice-recognition specialists are making it easier for drivers to simply ask for an address. Speakers can now say the city, street name and number as a single stream. That makes it much simpler and quicker than pausing after each segment to wait for a system acknowledgement. An Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system converts the spoken input into an address. There is no need to train speech-recognition systems anymore, they work completely independent of the user. The navigation software loads the needed speech data on demand. This improves performance and saves memory. The necessary speech data is compiled already within the map data. No extra external data or online connection is required.

While these changes may seem pretty straightforward and desirable to users, they're quite difficult to implement. Systems must understand various accents even when the vehicle is in a noisy environment, such as heavy rain or on a rough road.

Figure 2: Speech dialogue process for "Please my address-book".

Regardless of background noise levels, the vehicle's microphone must pick up requests so the system can begin searching. These searches can be complex, especially when the navigation system must search for cities and streets that may have names that sound quite similar. It takes a combination of powerful computers and very sophisticated algorithms to perform all these tasks in a timeframe that's acceptable to drivers who have come to expect instant gratification.

As these changes occur, system developers are also turning to the cloud to get the latest information. Servers in the cloud can provide better point-of-interest information or help voice recognition systems improve their level of understanding. In-vehicle hardware will always be limited compared to the infinite storage capabilities available to connected vehicles. After all, drivers don't care where data is stored; they simply want to understand all their available options, which may include a restaurant that opened just a few days earlier.

Figure 3: Servers in the cloud can provide better point-of-interest information.

Advanced systems are also helping drivers make decisions by displaying the points of interest on the map. That can make the decisions process far easier than when systems show a directional arrow and a distance. Often, ease of access can be as important as the type of food.

Vehicles can link to the cloud one of two ways. Many cars have built-in modems which let the vehicle connect to OnStar, Uconnect, Blue Link, HondaLink or another service. These modems can easily be accessed by navigation systems.

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