Sony’s concept EV embarrasses legacy automakers

The surprise star of the CES tech show seems to be a concept EV from Sony. Yes, that Sony. Is everyone going to get into the EV game now? Who’s next, a vacuum cleaner company?

The electric, autonomous, connected automobile is a new frontier for electronics companies, and Sony’s VISION-S is a showcase for a variety of state-of-the-art gadgetry, including sensors, display screens, driver assistance features and infotainment tech.

The VISION-S has 33 automotive-grade sensors installed both inside and outside the car, enabling 360-degree recognition of traffic conditions. Driving assistance features include advanced cruise control, self-parking, summon and auto-lane change. According to Sony, this corresponds to “Level 2+” driver assistance, and future software updates could enable Level 4 or higher autonomy.

Inside, there’s an ultra-wide panoramic screen “for driving information and entertainment,” and three large displays can be aligned according to the driver’s preference or the driving situation – for example, the center mirror can show the view from both sides of the vehicle. Signal processing technology can adjust the brightness of each display if, for example, there is glare from the headlights of cars behind.

Sensing technology can detect occupants of the vehicle and recognize them, in order to customize seating and entertainment options. More sensors analyze the driver’s facial expressions and body movement to gauge concentration and fatigue levels.

There’s “immersive audio,” individual speakers at each seat, and a host of gee-whiz features that can coordinate the car’s systems with users’ apps. According to Sony, the VISION-S “learns each time people board it, and develops into an intelligent partner.” Over-the-air updates will enable new features.

Sony developed the VISION-S prototype in partnership with several automotive suppliers, including Magna, NVIDIA, Continental, Qualcomm and ZF, and built the vehicle on a new platform that can be applied to coupes, sedans and SUVs.

The VISION-S features an all-wheel-drive two-motor system that delivers 400 kW (536 hp) of power, a 0-62 mph time of 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 149 mph.

Sony has not mentioned any plans to produce the VISION-S for sale, and it seems plain that it’s intended as a demo platform for Sony’s latest automotive tech. Even so, its existence speaks volumes about today’s auto market. Sony’s description of the VISION-S reads like a checklist for what is expected of a modern vehicle (a checklist created and perfected by Tesla): skateboard chassis; dual motors; autonomy features; big screen; over-the air updates; and of course, sporty styling and high performance.

As Electrek’s Jameson Dow put it, “This is just another demonstration of the complete failure of legacy automakers to move on electric vehicles, and the fact that every other company in the world is looking at this massive vacuum in the future of the automotive industry and trying to get a piece of the pie.”

If Sony – hardly a nimble Silicon Valley startup – can build something like this, what the heck are GM, Toyota and the rest of the dinos waiting for?

Source: Sony, Electrek, The Verge, BBC