Ford Sync to offer live operator assistance

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Ford Sync

Ford's Sync online system interface. Image: Jim Trottier/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Ford is taking on GM’s OnStar system and Infinit’s Personal Assistant by upgrading its online Sync system to include interaction with live operators. The automaker is calling its new live help service Operator Assist. The service is being offered on a trial basis.

Hands free information and entertainment

Ford’s Sync is an in-vehicle communications and entertainment system that is factory installed in late-model cars. The system interfaces with a driver’s Bluetooth mobile device, allowing drivers to make hands-free phone calls and control other functions using voice commands. These functions include music, traffic, news, sports, weather, horoscopes, stock quotes, movie listings and turn-by-turn directions. Sync uses a Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive operating system. The Sync system was first announced in January 2007 at the Detroit International Auto Show and first offered for sale in 12 2008 models.

Competing with other automakers

GM’s OnStar system has used live operators since the system was introduced in 1997, and Infiniti’s new Personal Assistant system uses them exclusively. Ford will offer the user the option of voice recognition commands or a live operator. At any time, a driver can simply say “operator” to be connected to a live person.

Drivers have had trouble with voice recognition

So far, the Sync system has responded through a voice recognition system. But many customers have complained of the computer not understanding their voice commands. Project Manager David Gersabeck explained:

“[Customers] asked for additional assistance in situations where their voice request was not understood. If you want the most reliable user experience, enabling alternative methods for customers to access information will increase success. … We want Ford Sync Services customers to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can get where they’re going or want to go. Being able to connect with a live person at any time contributes to that peace of mind.”

To be offered on a trial basis

Ford spokesman Alan Hall said the enhanced Operator Assist program will be available on a trial basis in 2010, 2011 and 2012 models for no additional charge. No extra equipment or software will be required because Operator Assist uses existing vehicle sensors and GPS technology. Ford plans to use feedback from the trial to determine the future of the service.


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