Sony Releases an All-Electric Concept Car at CES – Tesla Weekly

It’s CES time once again, the annual technology conference which is hosted in Las Vegas. It’s a conference which attracts almost 200k people each year, providing the perfect venue for large companies to show off their latest products and concepts. This year, it’s Sony’s turn to wow the attendees of the conference, appearing to reinvent itself in the automobile sector by introducing their latest concept vehicle, the Vision S.

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As you undoubtedly already know, Sony is an electronics giant, known for their cameras, TVs, and phones, amongst a variety of other products. The Japanese company is by no means an automaker, making the move to produce a concept car a seemingly unexpected one.

In this weekly instalment of Tesla weekly, we’ll look at the real purpose of the Vision S, and what it has to do with the future of other automakers like Tesla, particularly in the entertainment sector.

What is the Vision S

Fundamentally, the Vision S prototype was created by Sony to show off their new generation of sensors and in-car entertainment technology. Vision S is part of Sony’s effort to “contribute to the future of mobility.” For an electronics company as large as Sony, this makes a lot of sense. The auto market is becoming modernised with electric vehicles and new technology.

In the future, this market is very likely to become highly valuable. If Sony could produce an in-car entertainment package that automakers could implement in their vehicles, it could earn them enormous amounts of money in royalties, providing the system was widely adopted.

Hence, it’s unlikely that Sony would actually become an automaker. Instead, they will make every effort to contribute to technology in cars such as sensors and entertainment. This is cemented by the knowledge that Sony doesn’t appear to have any plans to sell the vehicle commercially.

The Vision S concept car
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Vision S – Sony

This is the Vision S. Surprisingly, it has a relatively conventional design, especially in comparison to other concept cars that have been shown off at CES this year. In fact, certain elements of the design are similar to the Tesla Model 3. For example, the glass roof and front end. From initial impressions, it seems like Sony went with a more futuristic version of the conventional saloon, rather than a radical-looking futuristic vehicle.

The design itself isn’t too controversial, and many people seem to like it. However, the cars exterior styling is largely irrelevant as it’s the technology inside that Sony is trying to show off. Let’s have a look at what Sony has done on the inside of this vehicle.

Technology and Interior Design

A panoramic dashboard visible inside the concept car
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The main attraction of the Vision S is the enormous panoramic screen on the dashboard. As expected, most of the screen real estate here is dedicated to driver infotainment and entertainment. Although this screen seems useful, it’s more of an incremental upgrade from other vehicles than a revolutionary change.

So, what’s Sony trying to show off here? Well, hidden amongst the vehicle’s cabin is a series of 33 sensors. Sony has been developing image sensing technology for a while now and seems to be getting quite good at it. These sensors can detect the occupants of the vehicle and recognise them as humans. Passengers can then interface with the system using gestures like hand signals.

Providing Sony can make a system which is responsive and intuitive, this new way of interfacing without our cars could prove to be quite prominent in the future. Given that Sony seems to have more of a focus on driving assistance features rather than full self-driving, a gesture control system could be safer than a touchscreen. This is a very hands-off approach to vehicle interaction.

Some Model 3 owners feel like their cars central touchscreen distracts them from the road more than physical buttons and dials. However, some experienced owners feel like they get used to the touchscreen and it makes them no less safe on the road. Sony’s system could be used without the owner needing to look at the screen.

Exterior Sensors

Like many other automakers, Sony seems to be more focused on driver assistance features for now rather than full self-driving. Evidence of this is the presence of a full steering wheel and a rather conventional cabin layout. Many autonomous car concepts have seats which swivel round and minimal in the way of controlling the car.

Within Sony is the Image Sensor Division. This works on image sensors, particularly for use in their mirrorless camera range. Sony looks like they have expanded the division to research sensor and LiDAR technology for driver assistance systems. Here’s a quote from their official press release:

“CMOS image sensors which achieve high sensitivity, high definition and high dynamic range while also suppressing LED flicker*3 to deliver accurate object recognition, even in situations where conventionally detection has been difficult.”

Sony Press Release

Their Solid State LiDAR which uses highly accurate distance measurement to gain a precise 3D grasp of real-life space. LiDAR is a technology that is used by many self-driving car companies such as Waymo. Tesla believes that the future is with cameras.

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Screens sit on the back of the front seats to provide entertainment for passengers in the rear seats.

Either way, sensors are going to be a huge part of the self-driving revolution, regardless of which form they take. Sony is trying to get ahead of the game in a market which is extremely likely to rapidly expand with the rise of self-driving.

In total, the Vision S features 33 sensors, both inside and out. These sensors will combine to help alert drivers of hazards. For example, if they are drifting out of the lane. Additionally, it may be possible for the interior and exterior sensors to work together to determine when the driver needs to touch the steering wheel to keep the driver-assist features engaged.

Will the Vision S Influence Tesla in the Future

Having built a reputation for itself as a tech company rather than a software company, Tesla is no stranger to car software. Their vehicles have an indisputable lead in software, including infotainment and driver-assist features.

One thing from the Vision S that would appear to benefit Tesla in the short term would be a detection system for knowing when the driver needs to touch the steering wheel. For instance, if the car detected that the driver was not paying attention to the road, it could alert them to apply torque to the steering wheel. At the moment, drivers receive periodic alerts asking them to touch the steering wheel. The interval between these alerts seems to depend on the road conditions and speed of the vehicle.

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Sony Vision S – The Verge

Sony is not going to be competing with Tesla. That’s a given. Tesla has a vertically integrated system and is likely to want to use its own entertainment tech. However, in the future, Tesla could switch over to Sony sensors for their cameras if they are more reliable and facilitate self-driving. Various other entertainment systems made by Sony could be integrated by Tesla. For example, Sony’s in-car audio systems.

Hyundai Air Taxi

Amongst the various concept cars at CES including the Mercedes Benz Avatar car, Hyundai seems to have come out with a slightly unexpected concept. It looks like Hyundai doesn’t just want to be a company that sells cars, prompting them to show off their new air taxi prototype that we could see flying around San Francisco in 2030.

As I highlighted in an article on flying cars, the fundamental problem with the basic mechanics of how they work. Much like a helicopter, the Hyundai Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) uses rotors to provide its lift. In order to remain in a state of equilibrium, the PAV needs to have no resultant forces acting on it. Vertically, that means the vehicle’s weight (mass x gravity) must be equal to the weight of the air it displaces.

Unsurprisingly, moving this much air creates a lot of noise, something that would not be accepted in dense urban areas like San Francisco. Hence, it seems like Hyundai and other manufacturers have quite a bit of work to be doing. A future with flying taxis zipping around everywhere would be totally possible, but whether it would be adopted by the public or not is a different story.

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