At CES 2020, Sony took an unprecedented step into the automotive space with its Vision-S concept car—an electric sedan with more screens than some movie theaters. Sony played it down as a way of exploring cars as an entertainment space in anticipation of vehicular autonomy, but the Vision-S was conspicuously developed for such a concept and had only gotten more so as of this year. The Vision-S remains in development, though for what reasons not even Sony seems to be sure, as an executive recently admitted to Automotive News.
"We don't have a concrete plan at this time because our current phase is a research and development phase," said Izumi Kawanishi, senior vice president of Sony's A.I. Robotics Business. "We have to investigate what is our purpose in contributing to mobility service. That is our basic idea, and we have to continue the R and D phase."
As of January, further development meant an extensive on-road testing program, wherein a Vision-S explored the area surrounding the headquarters of Sony's dev partner Magna Steyr in Austria. Since then, the Vision-S has ventured out to Germany and reportedly begun testing of "basic safety functions." That a multi-country test drive and safety evaluation program are needed for a car with (ostensibly) no commercial future should raise more than a few eyebrows—it seems very much like overkill for a vehicle supposedly developed as a way to explore immersive infotainment.
"We have a lot of content—movies, music and gaming—and we have to utilize that content and technology in the vehicle," Kawanishi continued. "In order to build such entertainment space in the vehicle, we need to understand the opportunity and build the right cabin system."
Maybe Sony's looking to supply carmakers with an infotainment ecosystem, one with more depth than what's offered by Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Maybe Sony has taken an unnecessarily holistic approach thereto, designing a whole car just to explore every possibility of running wild with in-car tech. Maybe those stated plans not to produce the Vision-S are completely earnest.
Or maybe, as reportedly hinted by another Sony partner, Elektrobit, we're in for another surprise at next year's CES. There have, after all, been bigger surprises in the history of EV announcements.
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