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Panasonic's concept dash brings physical dials to touchscreens

With two twist-knobs and a touchscreen, Panasonic's concept dashboard is where it's at.

Touchscreens are coming to cars en masse and, while they offer a lot of benefits, it's hard not to miss the simple satisfaction of reaching up and turning a knob to adjust the volume or change the station. Those sorts of physical controls are rapidly going away, but Panasonic is showing a new way to bring them back with a concept touchscreen on display at CEATEC, Japan's biggest consumer electronics show.

Formally called "touch panel with rotary / push encoder," this concept component is a vertically oriented, capacitive-touch panel with a unique feature: two physical knobs integrated within the display. They sit about an inch above the bottom of the panel, so the dials are completely surrounded by the display. This means they can be surrounded by custom graphics as their functions change.

For example, one screen showed a navigation-style interface, with a map taking up much of the screen. In this configuration, the knob on the left adjusts volume while the knob on the right modified the zoom level of the map. However, with a few taps a climate control screen was displayed. Here, the left knob controlled the temperature for the left seat, the right knob set the temp on the right.

It's a simple concept but one that's not been possible before, and something that could open the door to far more engaging, flexible and intuitive in-car systems. Unfortunately, those systems are still a few years away, as Panasonic says it'll likely be at least 24 months before these are available.