Tesla has redefined many aspects of automobiles, and the user interface is one obvious example. The large touchscreen in current Teslas is the most advanced UI on the roads, and many are wondering if the company will take things a step further with Model 3. We already know that Model 3 has no traditional instrument cluster. Beyond that, Tesla has been secretive about what the interior of the new vehicle will look like.
Could a new display system recently revealed by Panasonic be a foreshadowing of what Tesla has in the works? At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, the Japanese electronics giant showed off a new system that featured a head-up display (HUD) and augmented reality (AR).
This sophisticated HUD system, which was demonstrated in a Renault Twizy, is capable of projecting large virtual images in the driver’s eye line, using AR to give drivers information and even warn them of potential dangers. Unlike most previously seen head-up displays, it replaces the instrument cluster and many of the car’s physical controls.
Panasonic’s head-up display can project virtual images at angles of up to 12 degrees horizontal and 5 degrees vertical at an apparent distance of 33 feet in front of the vehicle. It uses eight cameras, including two that track the driver’s head and eyes. The cameras can detect the sides of the road and use them as reference points to place the AR imagery in the driver’s line of vision, updating constantly to follow the driver’s head movements.
Panasonic’s new system is designed to eliminate the need for the driver to take his or her eyes off the road. Three separate fascia screens respond to gesture control, allowing navigation, audio and other vehicle systems to be controlled with just a wave of the hand. This feature seems to be a work in progress – journalists who tested the system at the show reported that the gesture control isn’t as responsive as it should be – but the days of the classic dashboard switch would seem to be numbered.
“Every day on our roads, drivers are subjected to multiple distractions,” said the head of Panasonic’s Infotainment division in Europe, Andreas Heitmann. “At Panasonic we want to make the business of driving as enjoyable, safe and comfortable as possible. [This system’s] capability is enormous and it will make the lives of drivers much simpler and more enjoyable when behind the wheel.”
Any connection with Tesla is, of course, only speculation at this point. As far as we know, Panasonic has not announced definite plans to supply anything other than battery-related technology for Model 3 (although CEO Kazuhiro Tsuga recently told Reuters that his company hopes to expand its collaboration with Tesla to include vehicle autonomy technology).
However, we can be sure that Tesla will continue to equip its vehicles with the most modern user interface technology available, so it’s not too far-fetched to guess that Panasonic’s recent demonstration may serve as a heads-up as to the future of driving.