In the not too distant future, drivers may be able to tell their car to dial a number on their mobile telephone, select a compact disc or find a short cut home.
The speech-recognition technology that could make all this possible is developing rapidly and could be used to operate telephones and automobile navigation systems. But there are questions about the effectiveness of such systems and their possible impact on drivers' concentration.
Researchers at Loughborough University's Human Sciences and Advanced Technology Research Institute are working with Jaguar, the Defence Evaluation Research Agency and the Motor Industry Research Association on the issue.
The team, led by Rob Graham, plans to produce outlines of the pros and cons of speech interfaces and recommendations on their use. The Pounds 400,000 project is backed by the Economic and Social Research Council and the government university-industry research scheme LINK.
Researcher John Richardson said voice-recognition technology is well established but most systems have a relatively small range of vocabulary or take a long time to recognise a voice. More sophisticated and affordable systems are being developed, which will prove to be a valuable tool for operating the plethora of add-ons in cars.
Mr Richardson said: "It is a technology that will take off in cars in the next few years. Mobile phones might be able to dial by voice instruction. Visual display information on navigation routes, weather and traffic could be called up vocally so drivers won't have to take their eyes off the road."
But research must find out if the technology creates mental overload problems of its own, he said.