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Sony Gets Bitten by Self-Driving Car Bug

February 18, 2015

Another company has jumped on the self-driving car bandwagon. Just like Google and Apple, it seems like Sony is also interested to be a part of the autonomous vehicle movement. However, unlike the aforementioned tech giants, the company best known for electronics will not build its own driverless car. Rather, Sony wants to develop technologies that will allow vehicles to drive themselves.

The Financial Times recently reported that Sony has invested about $842,000 to secure a 2 percent stake in Japanese startup ZMP, which specializes in the production of robot cars. The move seems to be insignificant compared to the efforts of Google and Apple, but it is a good start for Sony. The company aims to develop autonomous vehicle technologies and it needs a partner with robotics expertise like ZMP to achieve its goals.

Even before Sony made the investment, the company is already guaranteed a major role in the development of self-driving cars. Sony is the reigning world leader in image sensors, components which are currently used in smartphones. These are a key part of cameras, a technology vehicles must have to enable operation without human intervention. Analysts predict that cars would come with as many as 10 cameras when autonomous vehicles finally reach the market.

Sony knows that image sensors for automotive use will be in demand in the very near future, and it is convinced that the investment in ZMP will help it stay on top of the competition. Shigeo Ohba, the general manager of the company’s image sensor business, told The Financial Times that the goal is to be the number one company for automotive image sensors by the time autonomous vehicles cruise public roads in the mid-2020s.

However, Sony is not relying on the partnership to have an advantage in the automotive sector. The company has been using its expertise in the production of image sensors for smartphones to develop image sensors specifically for automotive cameras. Last year, Sony started production of vehicle image sensors that can get quality color pictures even in low-light conditions. To become the automakers’ supplier of choice, the company would eventually manufacture image sensors that take images in inclement weather conditions and complete darkness, among others.

So while Google and Apple are fearlessly dipping their toes into car manufacturing, Sony is sticking to what it does best. The company wants its technologies in the self-driving cars of different automakers, not a self-driving car of its own.

Photo credit: Junko Kimura/ Bloomberg

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