Chrysler Electronic Voice Alert (EVA): the talking car system

A few years after creating the world’s first electronic travel computer (showing the average speed and gas mileage, and estimated the range until running out of gas), Chrysler brought out the Electronic Voice Alert (EVA) system.

Electronic Voice Alert was an advanced technology for the time — it was launched in 1983 car models — coming as it did before Macintosh computers, much less iPods, Siri, or the common use of voice-recognition/voice-synthesizing answering machines.

1983 dodge

The system had just eleven spoken messages (for key left in ignition, headlamps left on, door ajar, seat belts unfastened, low oil pressure, overheating engine, electrical system low voltage, parking brake on, washer fluid low, and low fuel). The voice advised that "All monitored systems are functioning" if no problems were sensed after start-up. The system was more than a simple voice playback device: it lowered the radio volume, sounded a tone, then delivered the message twice, with adjustable volume, while lighting up a warning lamp.

Standard on premium front-wheel-drive models and optional on some other models, it was produced by Chrysler's Huntsville Electronics Assembly plant — which had been a part of the Defense program — and was developed in cooperation with Texas Instruments. Decades later, Daimler sold the Huntsville facility to Siemens, ending one of Chrysler’s competitive advantages.

"Unlike earlier computerized voice systems, the EVA voice sounds very human," said Jack McDowell, Huntsville project manager. "We began with a professional announcer's voice and recorded and digitized the sounds into an extremely high data rate. This smoothes the transition between words and reproduces the exact number of vibrations per second as a real voice. It is identical in wave form to an actual voice on an oscilloscope. So it is pleasant, and is smooth and flowing, not choppy." Thus, the system avoided the much harder task of voice synthesis.

Voice alert controls were contained in an eight-ounce computer center behind the glove compartment. The voice spoke English on U.S. models, but customers could also choose French or Spanish (not on the same car, due to memory constraints). One message in particular would be the butt of many jokes: “A door is ajar” (to which wits responded, “No, a door is not a jar.”)

In 1984, the system was modified to be more selective in its warnings and to thank the driver less, and people cut shut it off via a glove compartment switch.

Burton Bouwkamp wrote:

The Town & Country convertible had the an Electronic Voice Alert (EVA) feature but the feature was not developed for this specific model. It was made a standard Town & Country convertible feature to help justify the price we had to charge to recover Creative Industries conversion costs. The EVA feature was developed by my Body Electrical department and Chrysler's Huntsville, Alabama space engineers to demonstrate and publicize Chrysler's electronic capability.

The EVA feature resulted in a memorable family incident. I took an engineering car with a prototype voice alert system one weekend. During the weekend I demonstrated it to all my friends near our cottage and also to my son Bob's family in Lakeview, Michigan - a village about 40 miles north of Grand Rapids.

On Monday my son Bob called me and said that his 6 year old son, Andrew, was expelled from school for fighting. I asked, "what happened?" Bob said that Andrew told his schoolmates that his Grandpa brought a talking car to Lakeview this weekend. An argument ensued along the line:

He did not!

He did too!

You're a liar!

Those were fighting words - and both boys ended up being expelled from school.

I told Dick Rossio (Executive Engineer of Body Electrical) that the voice alert was getting on my wife's and my nerves and I asked him how to turn it off. Dick said there was no way to cut a wire without making the car illegal for some of the Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. I told Dick to find a way. Consequently, after the first 10,000 cars were built with the EVA feature, wiring changes were made and a switch was added behind (forward of) the glove box so an agile owner - or a dealer mechanic - could turn it off.

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