Panasonic, Samsung, Kia Show Off Green Innovations at CES

Panasonic, Samsung, Kia Show Off Green Innovations at CES

Panasonic, Samsung, Kia and other manufacturers are hailing the energy and resource efficiency of their offerings at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, where green tech has again emerged as a strong product theme.

This year the sprawling expo touts itself as "the coolest" and "the greenest," claims that should be weighed against a couple of key points: Microsoft has announced its withdrawal from the tradeshow after this year, leading some to contend that CES is losing its luster. Also, it's tough for an event that promotes in-person tire-kicking of goods whose manufacture and purchase result in greater use of resources to be considered green -- as GreenBiz Managing Editor Matthew Wheeland and Earth2Tech Editor Katie Fehrenbacher have noted.

Such observations, however, don't appear to have dampened the enthusiasm of established and startup firms that make and sell home and business appliances, solution systems and cars that are designed to consume less energy, perform more efficiently and provide users with a smarter, more connected experience -- key components of a concept GreenBiz calls VERGE.

The vendors began talking about what they would be bringing to the show soon after the New Year.Consumer Electronics Association Chairman and CEO Gary Shapiro, left, with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Here are highlights of some of the announcements GreenBiz received:

Energy Solutions for Homes, Businesses and More

Panasonic and Samsung, which both have ambitious goals of becoming renown for their eco-friendly products and operations, are displaying an array of goods and systems.

Panasonic's "Smart Solutions" exhibit depicts the company's solar panels, fuel cells, lithium-ion storage battery systems for homes, energy management solutions and components for electric cars, along with home entertainment systems and gadgets.

Panasonic says it intends to become the No. 1 green innovation company in the electronics industry by the firm's 100th anniversary in 2018 and ultimately envisions its products as end-to-end solutions for entire towns. Panasonic is one of nine companies participating in the Fujisawa Smart Sustainable Town project, a smart city that's scheduled to open in March 2014.

Some of its business solutions, such as solar power systems scaled for commercial use and high efficiency digital signage, also are highlighted at CES. (The Infineon Raceway in Northern California prominently features five Panasonic solar arrays, a huge sign and tech center equipped with the company's media products.)

Samsung, which is aiming to become "one of the world's most environmentally friendly companies by 2013," is showing off a number of energy efficient appliances including three that CES recognized for eco design this year: An LCD panel, a front-loading washer that also is smart-grid ready and an over-the-range microwave oven.

Other smart-grid ready devices and equipment on display include an EV charging stand for homes, an energy storage system, an energy efficient refrigerator, smart TVs and smart phones.

 Wireless Glue Networks' SmartLook.The goods represent the product component of Samsung's sustainability strategy, which the company calls Planet First. The 2011 Dow Jones Sustainability Index named Samsung the most sustainable tech company.

Wireless Glue Networks is introducing a device at CES called the SmartLook (pictured below) that displays energy information from a home's smart meter so residents can keep track of their energy usage. The gadget is made by the Wireless Glue Networks' partner, Hosiden Corporation.

Electric Cars and Greener Auto Components

Electric cars and devices to make vehicles easier on the environment also have a special place at CES.

Kia has brought its first production electric vehicle, the Ray, and its Naimo EV concept car with user-centered driving telematics to CES.

The Ray EV, launched in December and the first electric car from a Korean automaker, has a range of 86 miles and needs just six hours to get a full charge from a 220-volt outlet. It is being built only for the domestic Korean market.

The Naimo concept car includes the company's UCD telematics prototype, which has a 12.3-inch touchscreen. In contrast, Kia's current UVO touchscreen is just 4.3 inches.

The UCD telematics system is expected to provide several safety features. Among them are an infra-red LED and camera that monitor the driver's face and eye movements and send an alert if the driver starts falling asleep at the wheel. There's also an enhanced "Smart Night View" system, which uses infra-red cameras and lamps, to detect pedestrians in and near the path of the car. The system warns the driver of their proximity. The Kia Ray.

The Naimo also features a wraparound window that has a high-intensity air jet at its base instead of windshield wipers. The car also uses miniature cameras in place of sideview mirrors on the doors.

OnStar and Verizon Wireless also are showcasing an EV innovation at CES: a second-generation connected research vehicle that the firms have developed in a static Chevrolet Volt.

The research concept car delivers waves of streamed content to passengers via the Cloud-enabled Verizon 4G LTE network. The new level of connectivity builds on OnStar's Advanced Telematics Operating System, better known as ATOMS.

The concept system includes real-time diagnostics that can tell the driver about the car's charge status, how many miles can be driven on the remaining charge and the location of the nearest charging station -- in addition to reserving a charge time at the spot.

Users would be able to access their home's energy management system directly from the vehicle. And to keep passengers entertained, there are two zones in the rear seat area and different content -- music, videos, games, news -- can be streamed to each zone.

Ford and Unifi Inc., the manufacturer of carseat fabric called REPREVE that's made with recycled content, will be turning empty plastic beverage bottles collected from CES, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which also is this week, and several other events this year into textiles for car interiors. The fabric is to be used in the new Focus Electric and other new vehicles for the next model year.

More Sophisticated Chips for Greener Products

Developments in semiconductor chips for greener products and solutions also are in the limelight at CES.

Marvell Semiconductor is displaying a chipset that enables manufacturers to easily and relatively cheaply add wireless networking to LED light fixtures and appliances for homes.

Green Plug is demonstrating its single-chip package, called the Green Power Processor. The firm says the Green Power Processor can knock down barriers to the adoption of digital control in AC-DC power conversion apps.

Easing CES's Environmental Impacts

The Consumer Electronics Association, which produces the annual International Consumer Electronics Show, also is attempting to reduce and offset the impacts of its event.

It has made $75,000 in donations to the Las Vegas nonprofits Green Chips and Repurpose AMERICA. Green Chips is using its portion of the money, $50,000, to install solar panels on the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. Repurpose AMERICA, which has worked with the convention before, is getting $25,000. The group will use the money to turn signs and other material collected from this year's event into shade structures at two community centers.

Last year, CEA, Repurpose AMERICA and the group Global Experience Specialists diverted 18,000 pounds of magnetic signs, almost 15,000 square feet of banners signs and more than 150 foam boards, measuring 3 feet by 8 feet.

About 24,000 square feet of vinyl signs from the 2011 CES and other shows were turned into convention badges for this year's attendees. The effort was a first for the event, CEA and its project partners said.

The tradeshow and conference conclude on Friday.

Tradeshow photos courtesy of 2012 International CES and the Consumer Electronics Association. Photo of SmartLook courtesy of Wireless Glue Networks via PR Newswire. Photo of the Kia Ray courtesy of Kia Motors.