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UPDATED AUG 13 - Sony has revealed that its electric car project continues on apace, despite the disruption of the coronavirus on the industry.
A video has revealed that the stylish electric coupe - known as the Vision-S - has been returned to home base in Tokyo, after a stint with Magna-Steyr, the renowned short-run carmaker based in Austria.
It will undergo further tuning and testing of its audio and sensory systems, according to Sony, ahead of on-road testing that's slated to happen before March in 2021 (the end of the Japanese fiscal year and the timeline the company has given itself).
After its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, the car was returned to Magna Steyr in Graz (below), before being dispatched to Tokyo.
Sony has shocked the pants off attendees of the Consumer Electronics show, revealing a fully-fledged prototype of an electric car it calls the Vision-S.
This is no Gran Turismo gamer special, either. Built for the Japanese tech giant by renowned small-run specialists Magna Steyr (who also build the Toyota Supra and BMW Z4), the twin-motor 400kW Vision-S neatly rounds up the very best tech from Sony’s various arms, including visual and audio.
Sony is not a complete stranger to the automotive world; it currently sells CMOS sensors to Toyota, for example.
What’s more interesting, though, is the fact that Sony has waded into the battle to produce affordable lidar (light detection and ranging), which is a key component in the race towards affordable autonomous cars.
Built for a very good reason
The Vision-S prototype which debuted at CES 2020 incorporates Sony's imaging and sensing technologies, as well as on-board software regulated using Sony's AI, telecommunication and cloud technologies, according to the company.
A total of 33 automotive-spec sensors - including Sony’s own CMOS image sensors from its successful camera division - are used to detect and recognise people and objects both inside and outside the car.
MORE: Lidar explained
The Vision-S sports advanced cruise control, self-parking and auto-lane change functions that equate to Level Two Plus autonomy, according to Sony. Software updates allow for continual performance upgrades, and Sony says it wants to achieve Level Four or higher self-driving in the future.
The car’s 5G network capability will help here, too.
A tap on a mobile phone app will allow drivers to summon their parked car, while maps being viewed by a driver outside of the car will display automatically on the car’s panoramic screen as soon as the driver enters.
All about the occupants
As well, Sony's 360 Reality Audio uses speakers built into each seat. Sony says each musical element, such as vocals or instruments, can be placed in a spherical sound field based on the artist’s intended position.
Front seat passengers face a wide panoramic screen, and rear seaters also get their own screens.
Camera sensors can detect both vehicles and pedestrians and send the drivee an alert even before they can be detected by the human eye, while the three large displays in the cabin can be aligned according to the driver's preference. For example, the room display (room mirror) in the middle can show the view from both sides of the vehicle.
“Sony will aim to leverage its array of sensing technologies to realise this next-generation safety system, providing smart mirrors that offer greater visibility and intelligence than conventional mirrors,” says the company.
Inside the cabin, sensors will also monitor the driver’s and passenger’s facial expressions, while body movement of drivers will be used to gauge their concentration and fatigue levels.
This kind of technology, which is already available in Subaru models, will become mandatory across the wider industry later this decade, as part of NCAP testing requirements.
The cabin temperature will be adjusted according to the condition and feelings of passengers. The safety of passengers will not be the only goal – the aim is to also achieve a cabin environment that will be sensitive to people's comfort.
If it detects a sleeping passenger in the back seat, for example, the car will automatically adjust the climate around that seat to a suitable temperature. It will also continue to learn, whether it is about preferred cabin temperatures, music, driving settings, routes, or various other driver and passenger preferences.
Vision-S is the real deal
When it comes to the vehicle itself, Austrian prototyping specialists Magna Steyr built the electric car on top of an all-new skateboard-style EV platform which, Sony says, can be used for various car types like “sedans, SUVs and MPVs.” Interesting...
Looking like a cross between a Tesla Model S and a Porsche Panamera, the Vision S is about 100mm shorter than a Model S but with a 40mm longer wheelbase and 15mm more width.
It’s built with air-damped double-wishbone suspension front and rear and staggered 21-inch rims.
An electric motor is mounted on each axle, with Sony claiming a 200kW output from each one. It’s also got a claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.8sec and a top speed of 240km/h.
No indication is given about battery spec or range, other than to suggest that the battery packs are ‘ultrathin’, but the Vision-S’s claimed weight of 2350kg indicates that the battery pack is pretty sizable. If we had to guess, a range of 320km isn’t a stretch.
This is an eye-opener for the automotive industry. One of the one world’s true tech giants has just rolled out a good-looking EV that appears on the surface to be incredibly well resolved. Price, of course, will be a factor, but Sony knows how to mass-produce and sell high-end consumer products. This will be interesting to watch.
What do you think of Sony's EV prototype? Let us know below!