} ;

CES 2018: Panasonic’s show-stopper

11 January 2018 | by Joe Simpson

People keep asking us what they should see at CES. If you’ve little time, Panasonic’s booth in the central (not automotive) hall isn’t a bad place to start, and is chock full of automotive products. 

Key among its demos is this autonomous future vision — which Panasonic says is 20 years or so out. The interior concept is a subtly, neatly executed vision for a fully autonomous vehicle of the future — and integrates several technology trends or features that run through this year’s CES.

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The headlines will likely go to the windows. They are OLED panels sitting on top of the glass, and in normal mode, look just like a regular window. But you can pull down a virtual blind to send them opaque, then display scenes to create atmosphere inside your autonomous car and totally shut yourself off from the reality of outside. Fancy being surrounded by sharks? The full undersea experience is just a touch away, and not only do you have hammerheads swimming past the window,  there’s a giant roof screen panel too, suddenly filled with shoals and giving you the full aquarium tunnel experience.

Being an OLED panel, there’s the opportunity to do more than just display pretty images though, and perhaps the most impressive part of the demo is that you are able to write on the windows.

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To complement — and in part control — these OLED panels there are a series of smart surfaces such as the wood deco panel on the doors, which during our demo was displaying scrolling happy birthday messages, and acts as a secondary interface. The primary controller is a virtual dial that appears on the wood deco between the seats — you can use this to change your window display content (switch from sharks to a Tuscan terrace for a little more relaxation) or turn the heat up, or the volume down.

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Up front the driver and passenger seats, swivelled to face backward through 180 degrees, can be returned to a forward-facing position, and for the ‘driver’ can be made into a private ‘business mode’ where the winged seats act as a privacy blind and natural sound barrier, while a curved screen appears out of the IP to facilitate a video conference call. 

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It impresses, not because it’s truly groundbreaking in isolation. Much of this technology has been seen before (and some better colour and material design would really help to better show off the impressive tech). But instead it impresses because of its subtle, easy-to-use nature. Everything works, as you expect it to. It’s intuitive. The space is nice to sit in.

And the technology — while immense, in the true meaning of the word — never overwhelms, in fact it feels quite background and unintusive. And when you write on the windows, or touch the wood to turn the volume up, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. As the company that’s already the number one supplier of in-car technology, and brand behind innovative new set ups like the cockpit of the Range Rover Velar, when Panasonic do something like this, it’s worth taking note of. 

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CES 2018