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Sony Aims to Lower Cost of Autonomous Vehicle Technology


It wasn’t long ago that the idea of self-driving vehicles seemed like a concept that only featured in science fiction films like Total Recall and Minority Report, with the likes of power steering and ABS still being optional extras for some vehicles in the 1990s.  Fast forward 30 years and cars fitted with driver assistance and autonomous capabilities are becoming common place on our UK roads, with fully autonomous vehicles being trialled as tangible alternatives to conventional taxi and commuter transport.

While the ethical implications of having driverless cars on our roads continues to be wildly debated, the cost of the technology needed to facilitate automation has also been a barrier to enabling the market to grow. This is where Sony has identified an opportunity to leverage its technical know-how into developing Lidar technology, used to let vehicles ‘see’ at a lower cost, without compromising product integrity.


What is Lidar Technology?

Derived from military grade technology, Lidar (which stands for LIght Detection And Ranging) emits a series of beams that enable the platform to create a real time 3D image of the surrounding environment. The limitation to the technology is largely down to its size, often located on a vehicle’s roof, it’s approximately the size of a roof top storage box.


What’s Sony Doing?

Sony believes this large size and high cost can be reduced using its cutting edge, solid state technology.

While Sony is the largest developer of image sensors (accounting for 26.7% of market share in 2018), closely followed by rival Japanese firm Samsung (24.2% in 2018), it has traditionally been a consumer-focussed technology manufacturer. In fact, in 2018 it was the fifth largest producer of sensors, with 62% of the market belonging to ON Semiconductor. With this said, Sony is making strong automotive alliances however, already working with Toyota, BMW and Mercedes, while also in talks to electric car giants Tesla.

Sony’s commitment to increasing market share is evidenced further through its development of a new cutting-edge plant in Japan, and its investment of $6.5bn up to 2021. In addition to aspirations of sector growth, Sony is also committed to reducing vehicle emissions alongside developing technology with the potential for increased road safety.


The Vision-S

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Sony revealed its electric concept car, the Vision-S. With 33 embedded sensors, including image sensors and Lidar sensors, the car has a 360-degree “safety cocoon”. It also incorporates Sony’s cutting-edge in-car entertainment systems with spatial audio technology that allow passengers to listen to different music. While the company has no plans to produce its own cars, it is planning on using the concept car to test drive the Lidar sensors to check its performance.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that mobile has been the mega-trend of the last decade,” Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said when unveiling the car. “I believe the next mega-trend will be mobility.”


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