One of the biggest announcements at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the Sony Vision-S, a rolling testbed of the Japanese giant’s automotive imaging and infotainment technologies. It’s been 12 months since then, and while the car isn’t present at CES 2021, the company has revealed that it has completed an updated prototype, which has now embarked on public road tests in Europe as promised.
In the video above, the Vision-S looks every inch the European test mule, complete with L-shaped camouflage livery and blacked-out wheels. It wears Austrian plates because the car was built by Sony’s development partner Magna Styer, which is based in the city of Graz.
Notably, the car you see here has been tweaked compared to last year’s show car, with lidar sensors visible on the front and rear bumpers and the front fenders. The array of cameras at the top of the windscreen also appears to be larger than before, as are the mirror-replacing side-view cameras.
A perusal of the official website has also revealed updated renders of the Vision-S, evidence of the electric sedan’s continued development. Compared to the original CES car, the new one sports slightly different headlight projectors and a subtle adjustment of the shoulder line, the latter to accommodate the side lidar sensors residing in the larger blacked-out front fender panels.
Inside, the minimalist dashboard and bank of screens have been retained, but Sony has added some switchgear to make the car look more production-ready, including new indicator and gear selector stalks on the steering column. The company has even gone to the trouble of rendering different colours and naming them (Placid White, Blaze Red, Tidal Silver and Core Black), just like a regular carmaker.
These seem like minor details, sure, but they all hint of some serious behind-the-scenes design and engineering work that go far beyond building a simple technological showcase. Speaking of which, Sony has increased the number of sensors on the car from 33 to 40, including a new rear lidar sensor and even an interior camera to monitor the driver’s lips, improving speech recognition.
As before, Sony is claiming Level 2+ semi-autonomous driving functionality with features like autonomous lane changes and park assist, as well as provision for Level 4 autonomy through software updates. The company is also touting its entertainment prowess in the car, equipping it with built-in seat speakers, 360 Reality Audio technology and even a Remote Play function through a PlayStation at home.
This is all very well thought out for a car that’s supposedly not entering production, so could it be possible that Sony is actually building the Vision-S for mass consumption? The company poured even more fuel in the fire through a second video in which it interviewed the staff of Magna Styer and other partners, who all expressed their surprise regarding Sony’s passion for the project. One CEO said he hoped that the Vision-S will not remain just a prototype and that Sony and other companies could bring it to market.
Sony in September also released an interview with two people who worked on the Vision-S project. Its AI and robotics boss Izumi Kawanishi said that the company wanted to play an active role in the future of the automotive industry.
As to why Sony built a sedate sedan instead of a flashy concept, Kawanishi said, “It would be meaningless for us to work on something that was unlikely to be realised.” Doesn’t sound like something a company as big as Sony would be putting out unless it was at least seriously considering building the car, does it?
All in all, it seems very unlikely that Sony’s higher-ups would be happy to pour millions (if not billions) into a project without recouping the cost in some form or another. And that’s before you consider the changing conditions in the automotive industry; at the time of the Vision-S’ reveal, Dyson had just pulled the plug on its car project, and there didn’t seem to be any appetite for non-automotive companies to enter the space.
But this week alone, Baidu and even Apple were either confirmed or rumoured to be interested in building an electric car, teaming up with Geely and Hyundai respectively. In this current backdrop, Sony’s low-key but significant announcement seems perfectly choreographed.
Of course, all this is speculation and Sony has yet to confirm anything, but it certainly looks to be an increasingly interesting project for us to keep an eye on. What do you think – would you buy a Sony car, and are you excited by the prospect? Sound off in the comments after the jump.
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