Two years ago, Sony unveiled the Vision-S electric concept car, and I excitedly wrote up the news. Here are some pics of the Vision-S concept at the time:
A year later, we found out that Sony wasn’t entirely fooling around, and it had created a test mule out of the concept car and was driving it around snowy Austria. Here was the excited reaction of our own Jo Borrás: “They said it was just a concept. No plans for production. Nothing to see here, in other words. And that’s fine — but here we are, just one year after Sony shocked the automotive community with the launch of its Vision-S electric car at CES 2020, and there is a for-real, fully functional, 536 horsepower (!) prototype of Sony’s electric car currently undergoing public road testing in Austria. How do we know? Because Sony just told everyone … and they have a video to prove it!”
Here are some images that came with the news a year ago:
Sony has not dropped the project. For the third year in a row, Sony has centered its CES hype around the Vision-S. That certainly seems like a good sign, doesn’t it? The short story is: the Vision-S keeps getting more real.
We don’t have any more interior shots/CGI, but we have the image at the top of the page and a press release. That press release includes the following update: “To demonstrate this concept in the real world, Sony started public road testing in Europe in December of , and started verification tests of the safety and user experience of the imaging and sensing technology installed inside and outside the vehicle, and the human-machine interface (HMI) system. Sony began 5G driving tests in April 2021, and will continue to apply its cutting-edge technologies to provide new experiences in the realm of mobility, which is undergoing a shift to electric vehicles (EV).”
Sony says it is now entering a new phase with the Vision-S. That includes opening a new operating company this spring that will be fully focused on EVs and mobility. The company will be named “Sony Mobility Inc.” Sony explicitly says that it “intends to explore entry into the EV market” with this new company. Clearly, Sony sees where the money is.
There was also this interesting closing statement about the new company’s objectives: “The new company will aim to make the best use of AI and robotics technologies, help realize a world where everyone can live in harmony with robots on a daily basis, fill people with emotion, and contribute to society. With VISION-S, which contributes to the evolution of mobility, together with the autonomous entertainment robot aibo, and the drone Airpeak, Sony will seek to continue to create new value in a variety of fields.”
Sony Vision-S 02
The new phase also includes the new vehicle form factor you see in the image at the top of this article on the left — an SUV version of the original Vision-S. Sony calls it the “Vision-S 02,” and calls the original the “Vision-S 01.” Here’s more: “This vehicle uses the same EV/cloud platform as the prototype (VISION-S 01), which is being tested on public roads. By offering entertainment experiences utilizing the large interior space and variations of a 7-seater, this new prototype will, together with VISION-S 01, promote the accommodation of a large variety of lifestyles within a society where values are becoming increasingly diversified.” Here’s a full rundown of what Sony has to say about the Vision-S platform:
Safety: Safe and secure mobility
The system supports safe driving by recognizing and analyzing the surrounding environment in real time, with sensors installed 360 degrees around the vehicle. These sensors include high-sensitivity, high-resolution, wide dynamic range CMOS image sensors and LiDAR sensors that accurately sense three-dimensional space. In addition, the system provides intuitive driver interaction in conjunction with the vehicle’s sound system and HMI system, so that the driver can accurately judge the status of the surrounding environment, such as the presence of emergency vehicles, even from inside the vehicle. Sony aims to provide greater safety and comfort to all through its sensor and communication technologies, and is currently conducting functional verification tests in Europe toward the release of Level 2+ advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) on public roads.
Adaptability: Getting closer to people and growing together
Time-of-Flight (ToF) sensors are used to provide monitoring functions for driver authentication and to watch over passengers. They also support intuitive gesture and voice commands that are intended to enhance usability of the car interface. Additionally, in order to deliver an environment that suits each user’s preferences, the vehicle will include a new function that allows users to customize the display theme and the acceleration and deceleration sounds of the vehicle.
Vehicle settings, key locks, and user settings can be synchronized by linking the vehicle to the cloud using mobile communication, including 5G communication, which features low-latency, high-capacity, and high-speed capabilities. In addition, since updates are reflected in the vehicle via over the air (OTA), it is possible to provide security and evolve service functions and value-added offerings continuously.
Remote operation: Utilizing Sony’s in-house technologies and knowledge of communication technology and security cultivated through the development of smartphones, Sony has positioned remote operation as an important technology in anticipation of the arrival of the autonomous driving era. To achieve this, Sony conducted driving experiments connecting Japan and Germany with 5G, and is working with its partners to achieve low-latency transmission (video and control signals) and communication control (monitoring and prediction) using the telematics system installed in VISION-S 01.
Entertainment: Enriching the mobility entertainment space
The seat speakers, which create a three-dimensional sound field, and the streaming service compatible with “360 Reality Audio” provide an immersive music experience as if passengers are surrounded by the live performance of a favorite artist.
In addition, to provide a high-quality movie experience, VISION-S includes the fully integrated digital video service “BRAVIA CORE for VISION-S.” The service enables shared or individual video playback on the front panoramic screen and individual rear-seat displays.
Further extending the possibilities of in-vehicle entertainment, gaming capabilities have expanded to being able to play PlayStation® games through a remote connection to a console at home, in addition to the ability to play streaming games through the cloud.
Sony’s EV Future?
I’ll just add that there’s a lot of detail there for a vehicle that wouldn’t be produced. Given the multi-year development of this platform, the two models, the level of detail, the new EV-focused subsidiary, and the wide open path for a popular tech brand to get into the automotive industry, I venture to guess that Sony will mass produce the Vision-S models at some point. What exactly “mass produce” means, I won’t go that far in my guessing yet. Whether Sony wants to become as big of an automaker as Volvo Cars, BMW, or — gasp — Tesla, again, I will hold my tongue (and fingers). I certainly get excited about the prospect, because cars are increasingly computers, and so I expect traditional consumer tech companies like Sony and Apple to have many of the core competencies to create good, smart, popular electric cars. Additionally, the more competition, the merrier. So, I hope to see Sony mass produce the Vision-S 01, the Vision S-02, and a whole lineup of compelling electric cars. But it’s also clearly not an easy thing to do. Apple has gone back and forth, and back, and forth, on the idea of producing electric cars, according to various reports over the past several years. Dyson wanted to do so, and then gave up on the idea and explained that it’s extremely difficult and capital intensive. And those of us who have been watching for the past decade or so have seen what Tesla has gone through to get to where it’s gotten. (It’s amazing Elon Musk’s hair isn’t snowy white yet.)
I’ve said my piece. What’s your opinion on Sony and its electric car development and potential plans?
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