Izumi Kawanishi, senior vice president of Sony’s AI robotics business, believes mobility will usurp the smartphone as the next megatrend. And he wants Sony to have a stake in the space, which is why the giant Japanese company continues to develop the Vision-S concept car it unveiled at CES 2020. The electric sedan recently began public road testing in Europe. Within the year, Sony plans to ship Vision-S prototypes to other countries, including Japan and the United States, for further evaluation.
Even so, Kawanishi confirmed Sony does not “have any [production] plans” for the Vision-S. That said, Kawanishi sees potential for Sony in the development of advanced driver-assist systems and in-car entertainment features. “We can provide … that kind of content for the automotive space,” he said.
It’s a logical way for Sony to gain ground in the automotive sector given its expertise in producing items such as cameras, sensors, and personal entertainment systems. Predictably, the Vision-S is a testbed for much of this tech. Equipped with a total of 40 different cameras and sensors (18 cameras, 18 radar sensors, and four lidar sensors), Sony’s sedan is capable of autonomously parking itself, monitoring the driver, and Level 2 driving assistance. While its Level 2 driver-assist functions match those of many current vehicles, the Vision-S packs the hardware necessary to eventually offer Level 4 assistance. In other words, the car is theoretically capable of autonomous driving in “certain circumstances. ”
“[Autonomous driving is] the main purpose at this time,” Kawanishi noted. The current Vision-S prototype aims to inch Sony closer to this goal, as the company continues to develop software capable of making the most of the vehicle’s high-tech hardware. Although Kawanishi’s attention at this stage of development is on the driver-assist systems of the Vision-S, he acknowledged it’s only one piece of the project’s overarching goal. “We have to focus on safety and entertainment for the future. “
In the Vision-S, entertainment comes courtesy of items such as a rear-seat entertainment system with two 10.1-inch screens and a massive infotainment display that spans the width of the dashboard. The giant touchscreen includes haptic feedback and allows users to also operate it by way of a console-mounted control wheel or even a PlayStation controller. The latter bit makes sense considering the Vision-S includes a 5G connection, which allows passengers to stream and play games through the car’s infotainment screens by remotely connecting to properly equipped PlayStation consoles.
It’s a way of “futurizing our EV rolling chassis,” Kawanishi shared. Futurizing? That’s the sort of terminology one usually associates with mass—or at least some—production. Kawanishi, however, was unable to elaborate on the platform’s future when pressed on the subject. “[It shows] a possibility for the future,” he said. “I can’t say anymore. “
He also kept mum details surrounding the Vision-S sedan’s Sony-built battery pack that powers the car’s front and rear electric motors, which produce a combined total of 536 hp. According to Sony, those motors push the 5,180-pound Vision-S from zero to 62 mph in 4.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 149 mph.
Admittedly, it’s hard to get too excited about the performance of the Vision-S given its seemingly nonexistent production prospects. Still, if Sony really reckons mobility is the next megatrend, then it’s likely to pursue producing the electric sedan’s driver-assist, infotainment, and battery-electric components, and perhaps even its chassis. We’d wager vestiges of the Vision-S will turn up in future vehicles—just maybe not Sony-badged ones.