Seeing Into The Future


Panasonic celebrated 100 years this year. The company celebrated it by showcasing its archaic products, and some futuristic ones.

By Jayashree Kini Mendes

Panasonic knows how to give users a good time. It has been doing so for 100 years, and says it will continue in this endeavour for years to come. In the last 100 years, the company has always batted for novel products that were little imagined. But its founder Konosuke Matsushita doggedly continued at a time when advances in technology was a little known concept ten decades ago.
Celebrating 100 years is no small feat. At a time when several large companies are finding it difficult to sustain themselves and prefer to merge or sell out, Panasonic Corporation has steadily held onto its own and emerging stronger.

Today, the Corporation, which is one of Japan’s biggest tech giants, is seeking to transform itself from a consumer electronics company to offer new lifestyle and smart products in the future. In November, it kick-started ‘Cross-Value Innovation Forum 2018’ at the Tokyo International Forum, which was the finale to Panasonic’s 100th anniversary exhibition tour that has travelled around the world this year to express gratitude to customers and partners, and to showcase how Panasonic has contributed to the society over the past century. The opening day saw Kazuhiro Tsuga, CEO & president of Panasonic Corporation, deliver a keynote address on ‘Offering new lifestyles toward the next 100 years: How can Panasonic transform itself from a consumer electronics company?’ He said, “Going forward, we intend to offer products and solutions that users will want to continue customising and updating them according to their diverse needs, and not just those we have internally decided are good. In this age, we should be updating our products based on the environment, time and needs.”
Tsuga outlined the core purpose of Panasonic brand at ‘Cross-Value Innovation Forum 2018’ and spoke about the company’s concept of providing ‘lifestyle updates’ while embracing co-creation and strategic partnerships. Tsuga also introduced the company’s HomeX project. The idea is to simplify the number of controls people need. A single HomeX panel can control multiple devices and has simple design features such as landscape aspect ratio into its display panels. Where HomeX separates itself from its competitors is its ability to talk to a range of home appliance devices, each of which can then talk to each other. HomeX is part of a fundamental shift in the way Panasonic is looking to its next 100 years, one in which harnessing its customer’s data in order to deliver personalised results is just as important as the hardware it manufactures.

At the Forum, Panasonic introduced its vision for the ‘near future (2030)’ introducing six key societal themes ranging from robotics, mobility and sensing technology to the next generation of smart living. Products of the ‘near future’ are one of the features of the forum being held in Tokyo.
The exhibition at the Tokyo International Forum had plenty of Panasonic’s past, with some glorious ancient tech on display from back when the company was called National. The show also included a some quirky stuff Panasonic is working on:
Personal Porter Robot: A cross between a dog and a shopping trolley, this endearing piece of tech is a little robot that follows you around by facial recognition, carris your shopping bags, and trundles along after the person until they bend down and tell it to open. It then gladly springs its lid (but only for the right face, of course) and displays all the stuff you purchased.
The AR climbing wall: It’s a standard climbing wall upgraded with projection mapping and biometric tech to react as you climb. It not only encourages you but also shows you paths and keeps your score, display an accurate heartbeat without you wearing any kind of tracker. It works by recording the amount of green light that bounces back from your skin, which fluctuates according to your heart rate.
AI walking frame: The ‘Walking Training Robot’ is a standard walking frame with a touchscreen and some smarts built in. The idea is “to support the desire to continue walking on with one’s own legs as long as possible,” which is a wordy way of saying it helps keep not-so-mobile folks out of wheelchairs a little longer.
Making translations transparent: It is supposed to be used for the 2020 Olympics, which are being held in Tokyo. A transparent screen with a microphone on either side, one can hold down the button and speak into the microphone, and it translates what you said into text in the other person’s language on the transparent screen in between you.
World’s most relaxing car: If you are not convinced about autonomous vehicles, this will. The oddly-named SPACe_L is an autonomous car designed for 2030 or so when you’ll be able to chill in your vehicles while it drive you wherever we’re going. It’s loaded with tech: you can see the heat maps of your own bodies on the ceiling panel, after which the car automatically adjusts the air environment. A touch volume panel built into the arm can also help you take over.

That’s not all. Typical of the Japanese is to invent a technology that can make life simple and delightful. At a time when the rest of the world is just getting attuned to smart homes, Panasonic has been ahead of the times. The super intelligent homes are designed to change the way you live, while offering you ample time to enjoy your time at home better. Panasonic’s Wonder Life-Box is enabled for the elderly and disabled, not that others cannot use it. It’s a system comprising numerous two way units installed on the side of the house. Each box is labelled for certain items, some are refrigerated while others have a certain humidity. Users can obtain the products by opening a door on their side of the wall, which also displays information such as temperature and even messages from the retailer. These are displayed using projectors, which also power smart counters and tables within the home.
Panasonic would like to make these homes a reality in Japan between 2020 and 2030. Access to the house can also be determined by facial recognition, only allowing family members or expected visitors to enter. Upstairs, lighting and heating are set according to outside temperature and weather, and sensors can even monitor sleep.

No singular country has seen a steep growth continuously over decades. There have been certain ups and downs, and the Japanese economy is no different. Moderating a panel discussion at Cross-Value Innovation Forum, Tomoyoshi Noda, founder and chair, Graduate School of Leadership and Innovation, Shizenkan University, says that Japanese companies are akin to sailors trapped in a sinking ship that has sprung leaks. And they have no idea! he exclaims. Joining him are Yasuyuki Higuchi, CEO of Connected Solutions Company, Panasonic; and Takeshi Niinami, president & CEO, Suntory Holdings.The consensus is that Japanese companies must fix HR and management practices that now ail the country. Moreover, the age-old system of hierarchy and culture continues to badger them, which will soon lead to a crises of future talent. They unanimously agreed that new laws are needed if they need to keep the working populace interested.

Panasonic also knows how to make living smart. The company has achieved a Smart Town and created Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (Fujisawa SSST) west of Tokyo, Japan, in 2015. The town’s 1,000 homes are all connected to a solar-powered smart grid, giving the neighbourhood the ability to run off-grid for up to three days. The Fujisawa project is a thriving community with 70% less carbon emitted and a 30% return of energy back to the grid.
Sited on an old Panasonic factory 50km west of Tokyo, Fujisawa SST is home to 3,000 people in 600 houses and 400 apartments.
The town’s infrastructure pivots around a smart grid connecting every building to a central real-time energy network — essential when juggling the variables of renewable technology and real-world demands. Feeding into this smart grid, every house is fitted with solar panels for electricity generation, a Panasonic ECO-CUTE heat-pump-driven hot-water system, and the world’s first domestic-sized ENE-FARM household fuel-cell generator. These then feed into the self-distributing SMARTHEMS (Home Energy Management System) that redistributes the energy around the house.
The houses—designed and built by Panasonic’s PanaHome division—have been tested to 1.8 times the recent Great East Japan Earthquake.
The leaf-inspired road layout—aside from its ability to channel the breeze down every street, so reducing the need for air conditioning—places the SQUARE at the centre of the town, which is essentially a large town hall/community centre where the energy and security management of Fujisawa is housed.
Panasonic has done much in terms of enhancing the lives of citizens, not only locally but also globally. The company in its next 100 years showcase had mind-boggling products that may not be a reality today, but will definitely find its way into our lives in the next couple of decades.


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May 2019
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