AutoChat Fills the Solo Driver's Cell Phone Void

Singapore, August 29, 2008 -- With worldwide automotive cell phone use becoming a thing of the past due to increasingly stringent safety restrictions, Singapore-based CarMate Industries has announced a new product that aims to fill the resulting void in conversation: AutoChat. AutoChat, according to company spokesman Ni Kwai, is a fully-automated, AI-capable automotive speaking companion mainly targeting solo drivers that can engage in lively and prolonged "real-time" conversations on a wide variety of topics.

"Drivers, deprived of their cell phones, were finding long commutes and road trips increasingly frustrating simply because they had no one to talk to," Mr. Kwai said. "Communication is a basic human need. With new laws preventing drivers from legally speaking on the telephone while they drive, humans are denied that need."

"If you're, say, Paris Hilton, the one place in the world you don't want to be is stuck in a car alone with your thoughts. And if you sit in your car talking to yourself, other people will think you're a crazy person. AutoChat fixes that."

In its conversational mode, AutoChat can be set to either initiate conversations or wait for the driver to speak first. In either case, the device's voice-print analysis module senses the driver's mood and contextually deconstructs language input. Its powerful artificial intelligence software integrates the mood and data to construct a response calculated to "keep the conversation going in a relaxed and stimulating way," according to Mr. Kwai.

"AutoChat is seamlessly integrated with your car stereo via a proprietary radio band, and with your existing cell phone via Bluetooth," Mr. Kwai said. "During a journey, AutoChat will periodically download updated current events information via news services using your cell phone's data link. AutoChat learns how to parse incoming information based on context-sensitive interpretation of mood response from previous conversations with the driver, and uses that data to present current events to the driver in a congenial or provocative way."

"If driver is football fan, for example, AutoChat quickly learn which team he support and which team he not," Li Moon, chief technical manager for CarMate, said. "That will make change to AutoChat voice and word choice when device present data regarding those teams. So it might say, on one instance, 'My gracious, Denver Jazz capture the pennant, hip hip hurray!' Or, if you not Denver Jazz fan, AutoChat say, 'Very sad. Jazz took pennant. Bad news shame shame.'"

"I am not football expert, so not familiar with all details," Mr. Moon added.

According to Mr. Kwai, AutoChat comes equipped with five standard voices—two male, two female, and one ambiguous—and is initially available in five languages including English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Teen. Accent and intonation add-ons, such as "sultry", "whiny", "Brooklyn", "redneck", and so on, can be purchased separately.

Mr. Kwai said the company will also roll out an exclusive "celebrity speaker" collection initially featuring the synthesized voices of Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Cameron Diaz, Will Smith, and Jesus Christ over the next year.

"Many people find the presence of another person in the car soothing, even if that person is silent or asleep," Mr. Kwai said. "We have therefore included several 'quiet companion' modes in AutoChat, during which it simulates the presence of a non-speaking passenger in the vehicle. In this mode, the device is generally quiet except for gently breathing, occasionally clearing its throat, grunting, sneezing, coughing, passing gas, or snoring. Of course, AutoChat is always ready to spring back into conversational mode the moment the driver speaks, or if particularly important or interesting news is downloaded via its data channels."

"We predict this will be a huge hit with consumers," Dusty Shiller, a writer with Autopoint Weekly, said. "During our two-month testing phase we found a lot of men turned it on even when they had their wives and kids in the car. They'd rather talk to AutoChat."

AutoChat will be launched in console-integrated or dashboard models. Availability: mid-September. A therapeutic model for home use, AutoShrink, is expected to be announced next spring.

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Tech Correspondent

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