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Disruptive Technologies: In Conversation with Byron Reese & Lauren Sallata

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Byron Reese: Many people are excited about possibilities that today’s new technologies offer. They see a world made better through technology. Another group of people view the technology landscape completely differently and are concerned about the impact of technology on privacy, community, employment. Why is there so much disagreement, and where do you come down in your view of the future.

Lauren Sallata: In the words of Mohandas Gandhi, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” You could say the same about disagreement over technology. Panasonic is involved in engineering entirely new and better experiences, in cities and factories, in stores, offices, entertainment venues, and in automobiles, airports and on airplanes. Consultancy McKinsey identified 12 disruptive technologies that will account for trillions of dollars in economic value over the decade ahead. Panasonic is deeply engaged in 10 of those 12 technologies. And we see the positive impact of these technologies clearly already. For example, in renewable energy, our lithium-ion batteries are being used in the world’s leading electric vehicles to reduce pollution. Sensors embedded in road systems to send information to cars and road operators about hazardous conditions and traffic and use IoT to improve driving safety and reduce traffic jams. Other examples include wearable robotics designed to reduce injuries at work.

How do you think the widespread adoption of IoT devices will change our daily lives? What is Panasonic’s vision of a hyper-connected world look like?

We see the “things” that make up the “Internet of Things” bringing us unparalleled data, information and convenience to change our in-home and working experiences. Voice technology will enable each interaction to be more personalized and seamless. We believe that voice is the technology that moves all other technologies forward. Why? Voice takes away the learning curve and gives both businesses and consumers more control over the way they use and interact with technology. Using our voices frees up our hands and our brains. When we pry our eyes away from screens, and stop tapping on keypads, we can focus on what we’re doing right now. The factory worker is less likely to make errors …the car driver is less distracted…the ER nurse can focus more completely on his patients. Voice is already an auto sector mainstay. We’ve developed cutting-edge, voice-activated Infotainment systems for many of the world’s top automakers, like our new ELS system for Acura.We’re working with Amazon to help us take voice integration beyond just information and move toward fully-realized contextual understanding. These capabilities are giving auto drivers and passengers control over critical features such as heating and ventilation systems and audio and navigation functions. We’re also giving passengers the benefit of connecting to other smart devices to allow them to fully control their experience both in and out of the car. We’re also working with Google on similar projects in the voice space, to provide integration and information throughout their technology solutions.

Talk about driverless cars for a minute. When do you think we might see the end of the human driver? What is Panasonic’s role in building that world?

We’ve estimated by 2030, 15% of new cars sold could be fully autonomous. We work with almost all the major automakers around the world, have for almost 60 years, and are doubling down on our ADAS and automation technology investments with partners. Autonomous Vehicles are going to have a huge impact on our society. Vehicle Electrification is going to have a similar impact on our planet…The combination of the two technologies will create a multiplier effect that will remake transportation. This will happen in stages. Stage one is the emergence of the connected vehicle, which lays the foundation. With EVs, we’re still at a price premium to internal combustion. By around 2022, we’ll be at parity. During this time, we’ll see elements of autonomous driving, such as autonomous braking, and EV autonomous vehicles for commercial and fleet start to go mainstream. Next, we see trucking fleets start to make the transition. Then commercial ride sharing fleets come on-line, giving consumers the benefit of autonomous electric vehicle transportation. In the last stage, we’ll see the personal ownership market catch up with commercial.

Tell us about what’s going on at Highway I-70 in Colorado

As cars become more computer than machine, they are capable of communicating with one another in real time – saving time and lives. Panasonic has partnered with the Colorado Department of Transportation to create a connected vehicle ecosystem that promises to drive a revolution in roadway safety and efficiency. On a 90-mile commuter stretch of interstate 70 into Denver, this technology has been designed and will be deployed later this year to allow CDOT to share information on highway conditions, traffic alerts and other driving hazards. It’s the first production-grade, U.S. connected vehicle system in which real-time data would be shared across vehicles, infrastructure and people with a goal to improve safety, lower fuel consumption and reduce congestion. Estimates are that such a solution could reduce non-impaired traffic crashes by 80 percent and save drivers hours stuck in traffic each year.

What is Panasonic doing in the world of immersive entertainment?

At iconic stadiums, beloved theme parks, and worldwide special events like the Olympic Games, Panasonic technologies immerse fans in the action and create storytelling experiences that inspire and amaze with the world’s largest video displays, mesmerizingly sharp content, sophisticated projection mapping, seamless mobile integration, and innovations like an augmented reality skybox that gives fans control of stats and replays, projecting them right on to the glass inside stadium suites – all without obstructing their view of the field. From racing through Radiator Springs at Disney California Adventure Theme Park to embarking on a frozen voyage through Arendelle in the Frozen Ever After attraction at Orlando’s Epcot, Panasonic’s technology has enhanced the experience for millions. Recently Panasonic collaborated with Disney creative teams on an amazing experience inside Pandora – The World of Avatar, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Its projection technology helped Disney bring the Na’vi River Journey attraction to life. Guests take a boating expedition down a mysterious river hidden within a bioluminescent rainforest, through a darkened network of caves illuminated by exotic glowing plants and amazing creatures that call Pandora home. The journey culminates in an encounter with a Na’vi Shaman of Songs, who has a deep connection to Pandora’s life force and sends positive energy out into the forest through her music. Disney wanted the two worlds to work seamlessly with one another, and Panasonic’s projection system allowed the attraction to achieve that seamless connection through projection imaging that provided perfect color rendition, precise levels of brightness, and robust systems. Today fans who use Instagram and rideshare as verbs expect the same mobile connectivity and convenience from their ballpark as they do from their Lyft. The Atlanta Braves franchise understands this well, and with help from Panasonic technology welcomes fans way before the opening pitch. Panasonic technologies at SunTrust Park and its adjacent mixed-use site, the Atlanta Battery, are all digitally connected, with more than 18 LED displays, monitors, projectors, digital signage kiosks, and video security systems – all regulated from one central control room. We just conducted a study of CTOs and senior tech decision makers on how companies are using or want to use disruptive technologies in areas such as retail, sports, media and entertainment. Our new study reveals that four technologies are at the top of their innovation agendas – artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing and energy storage. Four out of five respondents are poised to adopt AI to gain customer insights and predict behavior.

And talk a bit about your solar initiatives.

Panasonic has been a leader in the solar energy space for over 40 years. From electric vehicles to solar grids, Panasonic’s solutions are helping forward-thinking businesses and governments pursue a brighter, more eco-responsible future. To solve the world’s growing energy needs, Panasonic is developing high-efficiency solar panels that make eco more economical, planning entire eco-sustainable communities, using sensor technology to regulate energy usage in offices, and building energy storage systems that allow for more efficient energy consumption. When it comes to solar panel technology, revolutionary materials and system design have led Panasonic to record-setting efficiencies. Panasonic’s heterojunction (HIT®) technology has been designed with ultra-thin silicon layers that absorb and retain more sunlight, coupled with an ingenious bifacial cell design that captures light from both sides of the panel. By continuously innovating, we’re helping each generation of solar panel make better use of renewable resources, and offering the industry greater cost savings.

How do we make sure that the benefits of all these technologies extend to everyone on the planet?

Over the last 100 years Panasonic has taken pride in creating new and exciting solutions in many different realms. By having expertise in so many strong areas, especially those identified as disruptive technologies, we hope to enhance the lives of as many people as possible.

Lauren Sallata is Chief Marketing Officer at Panasonic Corporation of North America, the principal North American subsidiary of Panasonic Corporation and the hub of Panasonic’s U.S. branding, marketing, sales, service and R&D operations. She leads the corporations digital, brand, content, and advertising efforts, as well as Corporate Communications.

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