Ford: Blurring the lines between mechanical and digital

Motor vehicles are not exempt from innovation and Ford is leading the way in technological advancements by integrating SYNC, the new voice recognition and command system, with the existing MyFord Touch Dashboard interface.

As the lines between the mechanical and digital blur, Ford are not just seen as motor manufacturer but rather heading in the direction of becoming a technological innovator.

At IFA’s Global Press Conference in Alicante, Spain, Ford showcased a new dashboard console entering the market called the Ford SYNC set to be released in Europe in 2012.

The mission

Ford’s ambition is to leverage its global manufacturing and technological capabilities to build safer and more fuel-efficient cars. Referred to as the “marketisation” of technology, Ford are leading the game of embracing innovation and incorporating it with the driving experience.

How it works

With a personal demonstration by the User Interface Design Manager, Jason Johnson, a former engineer with the company, SYNC along with the MyFord Touch interface, is effectively able to control almost all in-car functionality via voice command initiated by buttons located on the steering wheel.  This allows the driver to never let go of the wheel and becomes a crucial element in improving the safety of the driver.

The voice command system, developed in collaboration with Nuance, is able to understand 19 languages globally and 10 000 voice commands. Ford is still however in the process of incorporating the recognition of differing dialects and accents.  The voice recognition algorithm will in fact learn and adapt as you speak. The initiation of the voice command feature is activated via the steering wheel, and make phone calls, change MP3 tracks and should the driver be at a loss for words, the “help” command will walk you through some of the other options.

The interoperability of the recently launched Applink, will allow the controlling of application through the integrating of the BlackBerry, Android and iOS operating systems. This effectively means the driver/user can for example, can use the online radio Pandora and rate songs according to your preference using the ”thumbs up” command. One further example demonstrated was when uttering the words “I’m Hungry” the Michelin Guide System will be able to recommend local restaurants according to rating in your current vicinity.

The visual display for the SYNC incorporates the MyFord Touch system which consists of a 4.2” LCD instrument screen located behind the wheel and an 8” LCD screen located on the centre of the dashboard as illustrated here in the Ford Focus.

Safety features

Safety is of paramount importance and is one factor that is not willing to be compromised by both Ford and Soccer moms alike. The new emergency response system tied into the SYNC system will dial directly to an emergency services operator in your current location designated by your GPS coordinates. If you are in a foreign country, it will further translate the distress call into the local language describing your situation along with you GPS location.

An interesting note is that there is no independent regulatory body overseeing the approval of the system as there is so many differing rating standards varying from country to country. However it has been stressed that the in house controls and testing is of the highest quality and meets a set stringent requirements.

Making it yours

The impression given was of a family centric vehicle where safety and personalisation are inherent within the system.  This is apparent as when reading out your SMSes from your phone back to you by the in-car voice reading capability with comically pronouncing “happy smiley” and “Laugh Out Loud”. You are able to further customize your desktop of the screen to give the interface a more personalised look and feel.

The system is further configurable to allow the placing of shortcuts to allow direct access via the steering wheel to features such as fuel economy, eco-load monitoring and turn by turn navigation. The more common features such as climate control and telephone are colour coded and conveniently placed in each corner of the screen.


The range of device connectivity options is extensive. Located between the driver and passenger seat, the middle console has 2 USB ports, for MP3 players and Flash drives, 3 RCA jacks for audio and video should you wish to play your Wii (only activated while the car is stationary), and an SD card slot used for navigation software updates and photo uploads. Bluetooth is also built in however it is unable to stream MP3 making the docking option more useful. The car has the further capability of transforming into a Wi-Fi hotspot, with WPA2 pasword protection, for all users within the car by taking a 3G/4G modem and plugging it into one of the USB Ports.  Uptime of Internet connectivity will be dependant on the local infrastructure.


It was recorded in previous beta testing that teething problem were experienced, however due to the update feature via the SD Card, bugs and software updates can be implemented as they become available. Should your car go in for a service, the dealer will batch update the whole system for you saving you the time and effort.

A major selling point of the SYNC is the fact that it is a once off cost and the lack of monthly subscription fee.  All system functionality, including emergency response will continue to be active throughout the life of the car even in the event of transfer of ownership. Pricing has not been stated for Europe however in the US it was a US$395 added option.


Ford’s goal is for SYNC feature in 2-million cars in Europe by 2015 and will first feature in the Ford Focus. The goal for it to be globally standard in 80% of the Ford motor fleet and plans to incorporate into commercial vehicles such as the Ford Transit to manage the Ford Works Solution including RFID tool tracking, routing and packing functionality.

A previous demonstration of the Ford SYNC by Jason Johnson.