Car News

Panasonic reveals its idea of an autonomous car… and I’m concerned

And the news isn’t great for those of us who are perfectly capable of driving to work without needing to make a cup of coffee in the car…

YES, PANASONIC HAS showed off its glimpse at what an autonomous car could look and feel like, according to Panasonic it “boasts its next-generation infotainment and connectivity expertise all wrapped up in a futuristic four-seater cabin full of surprise and delight features”. One part of that surprise and delight is a hot and cold drinks dispenser… really.

Most car buyers are happy if a car has four seats, has enough grunt to climb a hill, is reasonably good on fuel and is reliable. I’ve not heard anyone exclaim that they should be able to host a board-level business meeting after dropping the kids off at school, on their way to the office, but maybe I move in boring circles.

Panasonic car of the future

Presenting its concept at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show which was swamped by car makers spruiking everything from autonomous vehicles to windscreens that will be able to show advertising, and much more, Panasonic said an autonomous car should be “as important to everyday life as a smartphone is today”.

So, let’s take a closer look at the sort of cars we’ll all become a passenger in within the next 15 years (shoulders slump). Panasonic’s four-seater Autonomous Cabin Concept contains Connected Interactive Tables for all four occupants that can be used as a touch display or a foldable table – or both at the same time. Each Connected Interactive Table is highly versatile and can be moved into several positions, allowing occupants to face each other, sit side-by-side or combine all four tables as one giant interactive screened surface.

Remember the coffee cup reference? Panasonic has designed a magic mug – the Autonomous Cabin Concept provides hot and cold drinks with an integrated coffee machine and fridge – to work with the connected interactive tables. When this magic mug is placed on the table, the screen display immediately moves so that vital information is still visible.

“Working (literally) hand-in-hand with these tablets is a magic ring, a detachable circular controller device which, when placed on the Connected Interactive Tables, can be used to adjust a host of different settings such as the cabin temperature,” Panasonic said.

Then there’s “In-car cameras which can scan the faces of the occupants. The ‘driver’ is identified by Face Recognition. He or she is the only person who can fully control the car – for example, he or she can change the destination by updating the satellite navigation system”. Whoah there, adjust the sat nav, are you sure?

The Autonomous Cabin Concept features a “Smart Material ‘wooden’ panel”(another way of saying plastic) that acts as a display showing information, like safety or even temperature.

Panasonic car of the future

And then there are the windows which aren’t really windows, but are actually giant computer screens. “Thanks to transparent display surfaces bonded to the windows of the car, a whole host of information shown to the occupants, such as weather conditions at the destination.

“But the clever part is that these displays can augment real objects outside the vehicle. See a landmark go past the car and it is possible to bring up augmented information – and display it on the window in real time. In the film, the son spots a castle and, using Augmented Reality and the interactive table, the car posts information on the AR Windows about this point of interest for all the family to enjoy.”

Andreas Heitmann, VP of Panasonic’s Infotainment division in Europe, said: “Autonomous cars are set to become a huge part of our everyday lives, but hardly anyone has explored in depth just how the autonomous car can fit in with regular consumers – and make their lives better. That’s what the Autonomous Cabin Concept is all about.

“We are showing that thanks to Panasonic’s next-generation technology, taking a trip in an autonomous car will enrich our lives. Because we are not driving, we have more time to learn and enjoy ourselves. On a family trip, the fun starts as soon as the car journey begins, not when the family reaches their destination.

Panasonic car of the future

“As the automotive industry increasingly looks to autonomous solutions for mobility, we are uniquely placed to support it.  At the same time, our ethos is to provide systems and technologies that make mobility safer, more environmentally friendly, more comfortable and more enjoyable – and the Autonomous Cabin Concept does exactly that.”

Fabien Roth, General Manager infotainment marketing at Panasonic Automotive & Industrial Europe, said:  “With the Autonomous Cabin Concept we are combining our Consumer electronics expertise with our over 60 years of heritage in the Car industry to redefine the travel experience, not just for the driver – but for the whole family.

“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.”

“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. The versatility and flexibility offered by the Autonomous Cabin Concept is a revelation.”

Question: Does the Autonomous Cabin Concept sound like a great idea, or does this sort of change in the way a vehicle is used mean that our lives are set to become more ‘connected’ and less relaxing.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.