The voice of the GPS system

To me, someone who frequently gets lost, those GPS navigation systems are a greater technology than the internet. I am amazed not only at the satellite positioning and the computerized maps, but at how the directions are articulated vocally. Our portable system lets us pick out the accent we want, no less. So, in honor of our Australian son-in-law, we picked an Australian accent. The system calls the voice “Karen,” so we have started to call our GPS device by that name. (“Did you put Karen in the car?” “Let’s ask Karen where the nearest BBQ joint is.”)

I learned in this article that there really is a human being who records all of those directions. “Karen” is an Australian singer named Karen Jacobson. Here she is:

Karen

Does anyone know how these navbots coordinate the voices with the directions? Does a Karen Jacobson just read thousands and thousands of street names, which are then put together into a sentence with computerized intonation? How is that done? I stand amazed, and I will stay amazed even if I learn how it works.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Sam M

    Wikipedia has a good article here

    From my reading of the article, it doesn’t look like the human has to read every street name, but just enough different words that the speech synthesizer knows what every phoneme in the language sounds like, and then, preferably, many common combinations of phonemes so that the transitions sound natural. Then, when the GPS needs to speak a street name or sentence, it translates the words in phonemes and searches through its database of phonemes and phoneme combinations to find a good way to combine them to get the sentence.

  • Sam M

    Wikipedia has a good article here

    From my reading of the article, it doesn’t look like the human has to read every street name, but just enough different words that the speech synthesizer knows what every phoneme in the language sounds like, and then, preferably, many common combinations of phonemes so that the transitions sound natural. Then, when the GPS needs to speak a street name or sentence, it translates the words in phonemes and searches through its database of phonemes and phoneme combinations to find a good way to combine them to get the sentence.

  • http://heresyhunter.blogspot.com Bob Hunter

    They aren’t perfect, particularly in bad weather, but close, and they’re indispensable for me. No more “Just stop and ask someone!” from the wife!!

  • http://heresyhunter.blogspot.com Bob Hunter

    They aren’t perfect, particularly in bad weather, but close, and they’re indispensable for me. No more “Just stop and ask someone!” from the wife!!

  • Orianna Laun

    You call yours Karen too? So does my husband and his co-workers who all prefer her voice over the others. Trust Karen–she knows.

  • Orianna Laun

    You call yours Karen too? So does my husband and his co-workers who all prefer her voice over the others. Trust Karen–she knows.

  • Anon

    Wow! How do I get -her- in my car? ;-)

    I don’t think I’d like the voice stuff. But a ‘live’ scrolling map would be very nice to have, especially at night.

  • Anon

    Wow! How do I get -her- in my car? ;-)

    I don’t think I’d like the voice stuff. But a ‘live’ scrolling map would be very nice to have, especially at night.

  • Josie

    We love our “Karen” : )

  • Josie

    We love our “Karen” : )

  • http://thirstytheologian.com David Kjos

    Wow. You’re taking directions from a blond woman. What does that do to our stereotypes?

  • http://thirstytheologian.com David Kjos

    Wow. You’re taking directions from a blond woman. What does that do to our stereotypes?

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  • The Jones

    Helo, GPS… …How you doin’?

  • The Jones

    Helo, GPS… …How you doin’?

  • http://www.karenjacobsen.com Karen Jacobsen

    Hey there – it’s Karen here – yes THE Karen. I just came across your blog and I’m flattered with the comments. Especially “Trust Karen – she knows!” I’m also the voice on the Aussie hair care commercials fyi. Thanks again for writing, Karen xo

  • http://www.karenjacobsen.com Karen Jacobsen

    Hey there – it’s Karen here – yes THE Karen. I just came across your blog and I’m flattered with the comments. Especially “Trust Karen – she knows!” I’m also the voice on the Aussie hair care commercials fyi. Thanks again for writing, Karen xo

  • Alan

    Hi there Karen, just heard you interviewed on 2GB in Sydney. What amazing technology and what a voice also, oh , and attractive also. You’ve got me out being totally lost on a number of occasions.
    Unlike the others, I won’t be able to say have we put Karen in the car, because that’s my daughter’s name as well. My wife would be saying, at 33 years of age, why on earth would we want to put Karen in the car?

  • Alan

    Hi there Karen, just heard you interviewed on 2GB in Sydney. What amazing technology and what a voice also, oh , and attractive also. You’ve got me out being totally lost on a number of occasions.
    Unlike the others, I won’t be able to say have we put Karen in the car, because that’s my daughter’s name as well. My wife would be saying, at 33 years of age, why on earth would we want to put Karen in the car?


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