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Panasonic's new image sensor could help cars see in the dark

Panasonic's new image sensor could help cars see in the dark. Science & Technology World Website

Panasonic's new image sensor tech is designed for taking shots in the dark. Literally. The company has made an advancement that provides "electrical control of the near infrared (NIR) light sensitivity of the same pixel in an organic CMOS image sensor." In English, that means it can take photos in near pitch-black without losing detail or resolution -- and it does so without the need for a mechanical IR cut filter.

It works by applying different voltages, independently, to different layers of organic films that are stacked on top of the sensor. From the sounds of it, though, this might not be a consumer-focused advance. The press release specifically calls out the sensor's potential use in machine vision and smart car systems.

If you hurry, Panasonic will be presenting its findings at the International Solid State Circuit Conference in San Francisco today. You know, in case you wanted more info on how it all works.

Panasonic aims to deepen Tesla self-driving vehicle partnership

 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.

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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