Navigon talks up the role of voice in safe driving

Navigon will update almost its entire range of personal navigation devices next quarter. The new devices are on show at the Cebit trade show.

Navigon took a shortcut to the launch of its new range of personal navigation devices, unveiling them at Cebit a day before the giant trade show opens. The company also demonstrated two new voice features it says make driving safer and easier.

With the new range come new features such as "Clever Parking," which shows a list of parking places and prices near the user's destination, and Navigon MyRoutes, which learns a driver's style so as to suggest more appropriate routes and refine driving-time calculations. It does this by recording the speed at which they drive on different classes of road and noting the kinds of road on which they prefer to drive. It takes about eight hours of observation to learn a driver's habits, Navigon's Head of Product Management, Belhassen Jerbi, said in a news conference at the Cebit showground on Monday.

Another feature, Professional Voice Command, provides free-form speech recognition, allowing drivers to request information on "congestion," "traffic" or "jams," say, rather than having to learn the particular keyword to which the device is programmed to respond. The system can recognize commands in seven languages, and will pluck the essential information out of spoken sentences, Jerbi said. It improves safety because drivers don't have to concentrate so much on controlling the device, he said.

Navigon also wants to make drivers' lives easier by improving the way its devices react when they receive news of traffic problems via TMC (Traffic Message Channel) data broadcasts on FM radio. When such information is received, Navigon devices with the Spoken TMC feature will read it out aloud, and then display the current route and a recommended alternative that drivers can accept or reject by touching the screen, a feature Navigon calls TMC Routing.

To deliver the new features, Navigon will replace almost its entire range in the second quarter, with only the top-of-the-range 8110 surviving among the existing products. Even the company's best-selling European device, the 2110 max, will go, to be replaced by the centerpiece of the new range, the 4310 max.

The 4310 max has a 4.3-inch widescreen display and will cost around EUR229 (US$290). Its features include MyRoutes and Reality View Pro, which can display a 3-D view of 70 cities, including details of major landmarks and the heights of surrounding buildings. Navigon uses data from Navteq, and will extend city coverage soon, Jerbi said. A similar device, the 4350 max, adds the TMC Routing and Spoken TMC features, and support for a Bluetooth hands-free kit, for a price of EUR259.

The 7310, at EUR349, tucks into the range between the existing 8110 and new 4350 max, and includes all the new software features, including POI-click, allowing drivers to touch a point of interest on the screen for more information about it, including the ability to place a phone call to make a restaurant reservation, for instance.

The new devices will start to appear from April, said Jerbi.

There's still a little room for improvement, he conceded. For instance, the CleverParking feature is not clever enough to know whether any spaces remain at the parking places indicated. That will have to wait for a future generation of always-online navigation devices. For now, Navigon's devices are only online when synchronizing map data available through the Freshmaps subscription service.

Some improvements can be had today -- for a price. Navigon customers who wish they had bought a more expensive model in order to access more sophisticated features can buy many of them as software upgrades separately from the devices themselves. Clever Parking, for example, can be added to devices, or its price information updated, for EUR19.95.

Cebit runs from Tuesday through Sunday at the Hanover Fairgrounds.

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