‘Car of the future’ roaming PTC


And you thought ordering your phone around was a big deal.

Turns out the next big thing will be bossing your car around too. And work is underway in Peachtree City to make that happen, in a partnership between Panasonic and AT&T.

The companies have announced the creation of a “personal assistant” which will understand voice commands, helping drivers navigate with their GPS system, make phone calls and control the music selection.

So instead of fumbling with a phone and/or iPod as you drive along the road, you’ll give voice commands to your car instead.

Also included is a capability for “basic web browsing,” according to a news release issued by AT&T.

The telecom giant is leveraging its WATSON speech recognition engine and wireless Internet access, providing access to “cloud based servers” to handle the workload.

Panasonic, of course, is bringing its experience with automotive electronics manufacturing to the table, and QNX Software Systems Limited has also joined the project.

The prototype is being developed with the hopes of attracting the interest of not consumers, but auto manufacturers themselves. The consortium plans to “jointly create customized products for global automotive manufacturers in North America,” according to the new release.

One of the big selling points of the WATSON personal assistant is the improved safety by reducing driver distractions from cellphones and the like.

Concept testing for the in-car infotainment systems and emerging mobile devices interface is taking place now in Peachtree City via a special network devised by AT&T.

But don’t confuse AT&T’s WATSON technology with the Watson supercomputer from IBM, which was built to compete on the Jeopardy TV game show. IBM’s Watson is a stationary supercomputer, whereas AT&T’s WATSON will be powered by “cloud” technology, harnessing the wireless network to handle many of its tasks.

The very concept of giving voice commands to a computer harkens back to the science fiction classic TV series Star Trek of the 1960s, where Capt. James T. Kirk would verbally order a computer to provide certain calculations. More recently, the talking car took literal if fictional form as KITT 2000 in the 1980s TV series “Knight Rider,” in which actor David Hasselhoff interacted with a very smart black 1982 Pontiac TransAm with an attitude.

And who knows? If the joint initiative from Panasonic and AT&T is successful, perhaps the cars of our future will be able to do the same thing that our fingers can do at a laptop.