A new concept car... from Sony?
Another day, another premium concept car without a lot to distinguish itself from the rest of the field ... except for its badge. Sony? Headphones and cameras and PlayStations Sony? Yes indeed. The Japanese electronics giant has figured which way the wind is blowing and is stepping up to stake out some territory for itself in the new age of automotive.
Self-driving cars are tantalizingly close to becoming a reality, and manufacturers that have built their reputations on mechanical reliability, high performance or sharp driving dynamics are staring down the barrel of a new generation of consumers that couldn't care less about these things. Electrics require next to no maintenance, and once cars begin driving themselves, and super-cheap robocabs become ubiquitous, people will simply stop getting licenses or even buying their own cars. The age of the driver is in its sunset phase.
Thus, so many of the recent concept cars we've seen are explorations of a single idea: how does a car company stay relevant in an autonomous world? And it seems Sony has looked at the cars of the future and divined that the car itself will be the least interesting part of the equation. Perhaps there are big opportunities to be exploited in sensors, interior entertainment and interactivity systems, and other bits and pieces where Sony has serious IP to bring to the table.
Thus, the Vision S concept car, unveiled at CES 2020, might look like a car, but it's really a rolling catalog of Sony technologies the company wants to sell to OEM auto manufacturers. It'll never go into production, and realistically the exterior design isn't worth discussing, nice as it may be and closer to German design lines than Japanese. Plenty of photos in the gallery if you want a closer look.
If you haven't been keeping up to date with consumer and professional camera technology lately, Sony's CMOS sensors have been absolutely dominating in recent years, in terms of performance. Sony's DSLR and mirrorless camera sensors are the best in the market, bar none, especially in low light. And since self-driving cars will need lots of cameras to see their way around, Sony wants to supply them.
The Vision S is festooned with no less than 12 cameras. Three power the rear view mirrors, complete with the capability to dim the headlights of cars behind you, four provide the car's systems with a surround view, while twin time-of-flight cameras give the cruise system the ability to detect distance and volume of objects in front. There are additional near- and far-seeing front cameras, a reversing camera, and a dash cam. There's even a camera just watching you, the driver, in case you get tired or sloppy.
There are 12 ultrasonic sensors for parking and blind spot detection, and a further five radars. Sony has also added three solid state LiDAR units on the front, left and right, Elon's opinions be damned. What would that guy know, he's only several years ahead of the rest of the industry on autonomy, right?
Where there be cameras, there be screens, and Sony knows a thing or two about making screens. In the Vision S, the entire dash is replaced with a big panoramic touchscreen display that somehow still feels smaller than the 17-inch tablet Tesla builds into the Model S. It does look terrific, and it's flanked by two rear vision screens, with the central rear view mirror itself being another. Passengers in the back get their own screens, too, lest somebody get the idea that conversation might be welcome.
Then there's the audio; the very first product ever to carry the Sony logo was a little transistor radio back in 1955, and things have evolved somewhat since then for this Japanese company. The Vision S rocks a "360 Reality Audio" system that can not only place individual instruments anywhere within a spherical sound field, but offer everyone in the car the option of listening to their own audio without disturbing anyone else.
There appear to be at least 30 speakers dotted around the car to make this possible, including a stereo pair in the neckline of every seat. Lord knows what kinds of signal processing magic are required to cancel sounds from the other seats and achieve that 3D sound placement.
There are other bits and pieces; networked devices allow whatever's playing on your earbuds to get handed over to your car stereo when you get in; sleeping passenger detectors adjust the temperature to help people stay asleep; automated, personalized comfort and climate settings; and OTA software updates. Sony's even provided some specs for its fantasy car platform: 400 kW (536 hp), AWD, 4.8 seconds to 100 km/h (62 mph) and a top speed of 240 km/h (149 mph).
As we say, though, this is not about building a car. It's about dangling Sony's tasty technologies in front of the automotive industry and saying "let's talk." And for a company like Sony to go all the way and build a whole concept car to get the message across? Well, that's how you get yourself some attention in this day and age.
The video below shows the car in action.