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Panasonic aims to deepen Tesla self-driving vehicle partnership

  • ByZDNet2017-01-21 08:35:21

 Panasonic's autonomous car cabin sits you at an interactive display table. Science & Technology World Website


Panasonic hopes to work with Tesla to produce more than just batteries for next generation vehicles as the company continues to move further into the automotive field.

As reported by Reuters on Thursday, Panasonic CEO Kazuhiro Tsuga said in an interview that the company is "deeply interested" in Tesla's self-driving vehicle system and ambitions, and hopes to "expand our collaboration by jointly developing devices for that, such as sensors."

Panasonic currently works with Tesla on lithium-ion battery research and production through a Nevada-based complex called the Gigafactory, first announced in 2014.

The factory manufactures battery cells, modules and packs for Tesla electric vehicles (EVs), of which Panasonic has an exclusive contract as the supplier of batteries for the Tesla Model S, Model X, and Model 3.

The Gigafactory has slurped up $1.6 billion in investment from Panasonic as a partner, and reports suggest a second factory, intended for European soil, may be in the works.

However, Panasonic hopes to contribute more to Tesla's EV and self-driving vehicle plans than just juice. According to Tsuga, one such product could be organic, photoconductive film CMOS sensors used for high-speed object detection in real-time.

Currently under development by the firm, such sensors could be utilized to improving mapping technologies required by self-driving or driver-assist vehicles that need to map their surroundings to detect traffic flows and potential hazards.

It has been a difficult few years for Panasonic with job cuts and business pruning, but a shift to other revenue opportunities and improving the firm's portfolio through acquisitions have become top priorities.


Tesla and Panasonic join forces to begin solar panel production

Tesla and Panasonic join forces to begin solar panel production Science & Technology World Website


Japanese electronics company Panasonic and U.S. electric car maker Tesla said Tuesday they plan to begin production of solar cells at a factory in Buffalo, New York.

The two companies said they finalized an agreement calling for Tokyo-based Panasonic to pay capital costs for the manufacturing. 

Palo Alto, California-based Tesla made a 'long-term purchase commitment' to Panasonic.

Their statement gave no financial figures. The factory in Buffalo is under development by SolarCity Corp., a San Mateo, California-based solar panel company owned by Tesla.  

The photovoltaic cells and modules will be used in solar panels for non-solar roof products and solar glass tile roofs that Tesla plans to begin making, the announcement said.

Production is due to begin in mid-2017. Tesla said it will create 1,400 jobs in Buffalo, 500 in manufacturing and plans further expansion in Buffalo.

Panasonic also is to work with Tesla on next-generation technology, the companies said.

New York state has committed $750 million to build and outfit the plant at Buffalo's RiverBend site, the centerpiece of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 'Buffalo Billion' program to revitalize the upstate region's largest city.

SolarCity has committed to investing $5 billion over 10 years in New York state, hiring almost 1,500 workers at the Buffalo plant for five years and employing at least 2,000 more people across New York in exchange for use of the state-owned plant.

In October, when word emerged about the possible manufacturing collaboration, the head of New York state's economic development agency said SolarCity will be held to job creation promises made when the state committed funding to build and outfit the plant, which is expected to begin production next summer.

In November, Tesla Motors got approval from investors to combine with SolarCity in an effort to expand the market for solar power and give electric car owners new options for solar charging.

Shareholders of both companies backed the merger by a wide margin Thursday, and Tesla said 85 percent of shareholders who voted approved the deal.

'Thanks for believing,' Elon Musk tweeted as the verdict was revealed.

The deal, first proposed by Tesla CEO Musk in June, has had more of a mixed reaction on Wall Street.

Analysts wondered why Tesla would want to take on SolarCity while it's building a big battery factory in Nevada and preparing to launch its first mass-market car, the Model 3, due out at the end of 2017.

Shares of both companies dropped in the ensuing months.


Panasonic's autonomous car cabin sits you at an interactive display table

 Panasonic's autonomous car cabin sits you at an interactive display table. Science & Technology World Website


Panasonic becomes yet another company to show its vision of the car cabin of the future at CES this week. Perhaps the most intriguing of the lot, the Panasonic Autonomous Cabin Concept looks more motorhome than car at first glance, combining vis-a-vis seating with a center table. The table isn't designed for dining, though, as it's actually a four-panel interactive digital display system, serving up entertainment, information, productivity software and more. Panasonic's concept also explores other next-gen tech, like augmented reality, personal audio zones and facial recognition.

Panasonic's concept has four seats, each of which features its own next-generation 4K touchscreen display that can be set up in a variety of positions. Each individual display can be used independently for work, entertainment or other uses. All four units can also combine into a single, full-sized display table, keeping all the passengers entertained and engaged. Occupants can use the full-size display to review route maps, play digital games and more.

Smart materials around the Autonomous Cockpit look like unassuming interior trim but they do much more. The plastic surfaces are modeled to look like wood, metal and leather and are then backlit, acting as information displays, mood lighting and touch-sensitive control surfaces, according to Panasonic. A circular, removable "magic ring" controller interacts with the display table to control things like cabin temperature and lighting.

Panasonic's interior also includes a refrigerator and coffeemaker, along with a smart "magic mug" that works seamlessly with the display table. When the mug is placed on the digital table, the display automatically rearranges information around it so that it doesn't hinder the passenger's view of key information.

Like the Chrysler Portal Concept, which Panasonic helped prepare, Panasonic's own Autonomous Concept uses facial recognition, albeit in a different way. The hardware identifies the driver, who is the only one allowed to control all aspects of the autonomous ride. For instance, he or she can program and change the GPS route.

Another concept shared with the Portal is the personal audio zone. Panasonic integrates speakers into the headrests, and leverages its experience in cabin noise reduction to provide crisp, clean audio for each passenger, no need for headphones.

"The Autonomous Cabin Concept uses Panasonic's next-generation technology in touch displays, smart materials and augmented reality to show that an autonomous car can play multiple roles," explains Fabien Roth, the general manager of infotainment marketing at Panasonic Automotive & Industrial Europe. "On the one hand, it is the perfect working environment, a real extension of the office. Yet, on the other, it is the perfect family space, its connectivity and infotainment systems bringing fun to journeys."

One aspect of the Autonomous Cabin Concept that Panasonic is exploring in more depth at CES is the augmented reality window. In the Autonomous Cockpit, an AR display built into the side window shows information such as weather and facts about local points of interest. A second Panasonic CES concept, a Renault Twizy with a robust, next-generation head-up display in the windshield, further explores the possibilities of automotive augmented reality. Panasonic says that this eight-camera system is quite compact but creates large images up to 12 degrees to the horizontal and 5 degrees to the vertical cast directly into the driver's visual path 33 feet (10 m) in front of the car.

Two of the cameras track the driver's head and eyes to keep information planted directly in the line of vision. The rear, front, night-vision, dual side-view, and down side-view cameras track the vehicle's surroundings in order to deliver crucial information to the driver in real time. The system provides information, alerts and a bird's eye view of the car, and the driver can adjust the configuration of the information as desired.

Head-up displays usually work in conjunction with standard vehicle equipment like instrument panels and physical controls, but this Panasonic version replaces the instrument cluster and many physical controls. All remaining physical controls are integrated into the steering wheel and capacitive touch panel. By consolidating the controls and visual information in this way, Panasonic attempts to prevent the need for the driver to take his or her eyes off the road.

Panasonic says that the system can be applied to any new vehicle and it has plans to introduce it in the near future.

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