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The Sony Car... Game-Changer or PR Stunt?

In April 2019 it was announced the mythical PlayStation 5 would soon become a reality, news that melted minds of gamers the world over. Those able to peel themselves from their bedroom ceilings were expecting a preview of sorts at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, an event in which makers Sony deliver a keynote presentation.

To their (and our) astonishment, talk of consoles gave way to something quite different… talk of cars.

Indeed, in the leftist of leftfield moves, CEO Kenchiro Yoshida instead unveiled the Sony Vision-S, an electric concept nobody saw coming.

So, what do we know about the New Year’s biggest surprise and what does it say about Sony’s future plans?

Technology

Pulling up onto centre stage the Vision-S displayed all the hallmarks of a classic four-door saloon, coupe, hatchback… and a stylish one at that.

Given Sony’s area of expertise however, its defining features were always likely to centre around tech. So it proved.

The biggest takeaway is undoubtedly the presence of 33 sensors, yes 33 of them!

These combine to recognise objects around the vehicle and include Lidar, which builds a 3D map of all surroundings.

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Passengers will be detected by what the manufacturers are calling ‘Time of Flight’ sensors and be treated to - or subjected to depending on the playlist in question - 360-degree audio. This experience will be facilitated by the presence of speakers within the seats themselves. We can surely trust Sony’s capabilities on the sound front.

Up-top, a panoramic dash akin to something from I, Robot stretches below the windshield. Rumours abound this will include a feed for the car’s exterior and provide increased safety in the process.

The model’s large digital screen will of course lend itself to entertainment systems, while continuous cloud updates mean such content will be refreshed. No word yet on whether a PlayStation will form part of this unusual bundle…

Elsewhere ceramic brakes are present, along with a panoramic sunroof and the customary plush interior.

Tellingly the brains behind the concept have highlighted its ‘adaptability’ as a defining feature but offered no explanation. There is speculation as to exactly what ‘adaptable’ means in this context, with some predicting the base or chassis could be outfitted with different body styles. Time will tell. Maybe.

A futuristic autonomous EV, the Vision-S is a collaborative effort. Sonly pulled in favours from friends in high places to get to this stage; Blackberry, Bosch, Magna, Nvidia and Qualcomm among them.

January’s big reveal underlines the company’s commitment to reinvention but what of their commitment to motoring? Is the Vision-S a PR stunt or does it symbolise the start of a new era?

Future

We should remember a host of Sony equipment and sensors already feature in numerous vehicles. Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) camera imaging for instance can be found in the likes of the Toyota Corolla and the Lexus NX, meaning they have – in theory - already transcended the entertainment industry.

During his headline-grabbing speech meanwhile Yoshida seemed to suggest Sony’s commitment was total.

“We are excited about the road ahead, we believe that the evolution of mobility will also redefine cars as a new entertainment space”, he announced.

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Messaging shared at the conference also stated “[The Vision-S] demonstrates the contribution [Sony] intends to make to realise a highly advanced autonomous driving society”

Cynicism is though rife in spite of the party line.

While many petrolheads appreciate the technology, very few expect the concept to become a reality – at least not in this decade. Doubts have only been fuelled by Sony’s own admission they have no plans to enter their maiden motor into production. Not yet anyway.

Could this simply be a ploy to entice actual automakers into partnering up? The car may be a way off, but the technology is after all primed.

Avatar Car

If nothing else Sony succeeded in stealing the show, or at least co-headlining with Mercedes-Benz. That’s because the German manufacturers had a big reveal of their own… the Vision AVTR, a concept inspired by 2009’s blockbuster movie Avatar.

In truth, this extraordinary model makes the idea of a Sony car seem decidedly ordinary. The lack of a steering wheel should take you aback and that’s before you get to movable reptilian scales!

Wooden floors, transparent doors and an infotainment system all doff their cap to the sci-fi classic. Even spherical wheels are based on seeds from a special tree featured in the picture.

Director James Cameron was on-hand to unveil a car clearly intended as little more than a tribute. His presence though added extra razzmatazz to an increasingly star-studded event.

While the Avatar dream will remain just that Sony’s can at least be comprehended. Time will tell whether this Japanese powerhouse crosses over into the motoring world for real and alters its landscape in the process. We’re fairly sure the PS5 will arrive first.

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