Panasonic interview: From Smart Home to Smart Cities, the rise of neo-lifestyle tech

posted on Monday, 16th January 2017 by Steve May

Smart home  Smart Building  CES 2017 

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Panasonic has a smarter vision than most. From IoT to massive public infrastructure projects, it has set the pace when it comes to connected living, renewable energy and next generation neo-lifestyle technologies.

At CES 2017, Panasonic officially announced that it had begun production of high energy, high density lithium-ion batteries at the Tesla Gigafactory, in Nevada. A further deepening of its strategic partnership with Tesla, the new power cells will be used in Tesla’s upcoming Model 3 electric car.

It also used CES to showcase its smart city agenda, providing an update on its CityNow project in Denver, which includes the deployment of Smart LED streetlighting and anti-congestion vehicle-to-vehicle communications, plus a strategic alliance with DisneyResorts for good measure. Closer to home, Panasonic also showcased a kitchen full of connected appliances, and looked to the future with AI.

All quite a change for a company once regarded as a consumer electronics specialist.

Panasonic has taken a lead when it comes to big infrastructure projects, assuming a unique role in the execution of smart living and sustainable technologies.

From the creation of the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town project, and its collaboration with the city of Denver, though to its Future Living Berlin smart home project, the company has taken a leading role in developing big, if disparate, lifestyle solutions.

The Fujisawa SST pilot is essentially a complete town, based close to Tokyo. Eventually it’ll be home to some 3000 people. Located on the site of an old Panasonic factory, it’s due to be completed in 2020. Fujisawa’s renewable energy systems can provide off-grid power for up to three days.

By way of contrast, Future Living Berlin is a residential project, comprising a complex of 69 smart home apartments, built in an interactive community space. Other projects in development include Tsunashima and Lyon France.

Panasonic Companion Robot

Companion Robot Video Projector

David Preece

So are there any plans to start a similar Smart City/sustainable energy project in the UK? We put the question to UK Marketing Director David Preece (pictured above).

“Well, we’re in those businesses in Europe, so absolutely. It’s part of the growth strategy for the whole European company,” he told Inside CI. “We’ll be gradually looking to roll those things out.” Such projects take time though, he adds. “Fujisawa SST took around four years, from spade in the ground to first opening ceremony, in Denver they’re already a year in.”

He also points out that each project tends to be unique. “Fujisawa is all about sustainable energy, whereas Denver is about transportation and Berlin is more about smart home technology. Each Smart City project that Panasonic has developed has been quite different.”

The UK would present its own particular challenges, admits Preece.

“We have the same set of problems here, from over congestion to environmental issues. The country is an old platform though. Just consider the age of much of our infrastructure. You can imagine that if Milton Keynes was being built now, that would be a perfect project….”

While Panasonic has had a corporate focus on smart city developments, it’s also been pushing its own low cost smart home product range.

Preece says the consumer is now demanding cross platform interoperability. “There’s a big piece of work to be done.” He says. “Retailers are telling us that they want full integration.

Smart Window

Smart Table Panasonic

Language Translation Panasonic

“We need wider compatibility within our own ecosystem, Amazon Alexa, Hive… that is something we’re working on. We realise that we need to. True smart means one user interface. Our smart home business unit is based out of Japan, but there are commercial deals, such as Honeywell, being done in the US. We’ll look to expand compatibility. That’s the next step. I think we’ve done a good job getting that product to market, and explaining the benefits of DECT, such as better security.

“When we first brought that to market, we had an engineering team in the UK testing routers and network infrastructure for three months. We’ve proven that our solutions are easy to use, robust and stable. Consumer feedback has been good.”

Panasonic offered a look at the future of smart tech at CES with a number of R&D projects from its Future Tech Lab.

A prototype desktop robot companion, with an egg-shaped form factor, aims to communicate and offer friendship through artificial intelligence. It is, says Panasonic, both a communications and entertainment device, but also ”a family member, teacher or friend.”

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Features include smooth motion and naturalistic communication. It includes an integrated video projector, so can present video content. It also employs sophisticated image recognition technology, and voice recognition.

The company also demonstrated a multilingual translation system, for use in public spaces, hotels and the like. Users simply ask a question, perhaps an enquiry about directions, which is then translated and answered onscreen.

There were also demonstrations of a smart table, which displays data from connected appliances, a smart glass curtain (in which what appears to be a window can turn into a fully active display), and Virtual Reality.

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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