Panasonic upgrades infotainment to enable voice commands without cloud

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LAS VEGAS — Panasonic Corp. is upgrading its next-generation infotainment system so that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant will respond to voice commands even when the vehicle loses its cloud connection.

Tom Gebhardt, president of Panasonic’s North American unit, said Monday that two automakers already have ordered the upgrade of its Skip Generation infotainment platform, which enables Alexa and Google Assistant.

The improvement poses a direct challenge to Nuance, the auto industry’s top supplier of voice-control technology. Until now, automakers opted for Nuance’s Dragon Drive voice system because it works at all times — even when the vehicle loses cloud connectivity.

Now, automakers can choose to use Alexa or Google Assistant instead. Those systems can be used for tasks such as requesting route guidance, adjusting the climate control, locking or unlocking the doors or finding a nearby gas station.

When the vehicle is online, the system “gives you access to a huge vocabulary, which gives you natural language capability,” Gebhardt said. When the vehicle is offline, some — but not all — Alexa voice functions will be available.

“They have taken the most important functions and embedded them in the car,” Gebhardt said.

Panasonic introduced Skip Generation a year ago at CES. Since it is an open, Linux-based system, automakers can upgrade it whenever necessary, rather than waiting for a traditional three-year development cycle.

“We wanted to make it a seamless experience for the customer,” Gebhardt said. “If you are more partial to one or another voice system, we are indifferent to which you use.”

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