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Published: Wednesday, 9/15/2010

OnStar says new voice commands to cut distraction


DETROIT — General Motors Co. says it is revamping the computer system that runs its OnStar safety system, giving it better voice recognition so drivers can use verbal commands to safely stay connected to the Internet.

It's also branding much of its dashboard electronics as “OnStar MyLink” in an effort to better compete with Ford Motor Co.'s Sync system that was developed with Microsoft Inc.

OnStar President Chris Preuss said people want to stay connected, and the improved voice recognition system will allow them to do it safely. For instance, in a few months, the change will let the system read cell phone text messages to drivers. They also can use a button on the steering wheel to send one of four preset replies.

And they'll be able to listen to messages from the social media site Facebook, as well as update their Facebook status by speaking in the car.

Preuss said the voice system is still being tested for safety, but OnStar has data showing there is no correlation between pushing a single button and vehicle crashes. He said people will continue to send text messages in cars and even update Facebook statuses from their phones, so the company decided to let them do it safely with little distraction.

“I don't think we're at all engaging in activities that are going to make it worse,” he said. “We're absolutely engaging in activities that will make things better.”

Some of the services could come without paying the OnStar subscription fee.

Preuss said OnStar operators have been trained to give medical advice when a 911 dispatcher is unable to do it. He also said the company is looking to apply its crash response system, where operators call to check on a driver when airbags are set off, to boats, motorcycles and even bicycles.

Often the operators get help for the driver.

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