Sporting camouflage but evidently in production-ready trim, the VISION-S has been tested in the snowy Austrian Alps, starting in December last year. However, since its launch at CES 2020, Sony hasn’t wavered too far from its main rationale behind developing the VISION-S – to be a test bed for a host of technologies rather than a production car.
Additional details about Sony’s EV platform have emerged over the past 12 months, and they make for interesting reading. It is a twin motor setup, with a 268bhp on both the front and rear axle which reportedly enables the car to hit 62mph in under five seconds, reaching a top speed of 149mph. These figures are comparable with a Tesla Model 3 Performance, albeit the Tesla accelerates more quickly and tops out at a higher v-max. The Sony’s bulky 2350kg weight would account for this.
The platform itself hasn’t just been developed with a fast and luxurious four-door coupe in mind; its skateboard design can also underpin SUVs, MPVs and saloons.
Whilst the powertrain is of significant interest, Sony is concentrating on what it knows – and does – best: an array of advanced on-board technology focussing on user experience.
Safety, autonomy and assistance are the main things that Sony is working on from a driving perspective. Its ‘Safety Cocoon’ concept is said to “surpass human vision”, monitoring the car’s surroundings through 360 degrees all the time. This interfaces with a driver and interior monitoring system, checking on a driver’s expression, concentration levels and fatigue.
Sony has also developed a system whereby the interior cameras can read a driver’s lips so that voice commands are more reliably input in noisy situations. On top of that, the car will automatically adjust the internal temperature based on occupant behaviour – so a rear seat passenger might get a cosseting heat burst if they are trying to catch 40 winks on a long drive.
For driving assistance and autonomous driving control, the VISION-S has 32 external sensors and cameras, including LiDAR, radar, ultrasonic sensors and surround view cameras. These can ‘see’ over 300 metres and – at present – provide Level 2+ autonomous driver assistance. Sony has future-proofed the VISION-S, however, so in the future it will be able to accept software upgrades bringing it to Level 4 autonomy.
Beyond the driving assistance, Sony’s road-going prototype has a full range of working in-car entertainment and information systems with full 5G connectivity. As you’d expect from a world-leader in entertainment technology, the VISION-S gets the works – billed to be “a place of relaxation, like a living room” with each of the four seats getting its own ‘sound stage’.
‘360 Reality Audio’ uses the individual seat speakers to create an immersive audio experience for individuals, whilst the cabin’s speaker layout can do the same for the entire interior space. Up front, one of the biggest panoramic infotainment screens we’ve seen is designed so that elements of it can be used individually by both the driver and front seat passenger at the same time. Passengers in the front or rear can play PlayStation, with each rear seat passenger getting a 10.1 inch high-definition display.
Whether in the front or back, the ICE can be controlled via touchscreen, gesture, a control knob or even a PlayStation controller.
Whilst Sony is using the VISION-S to test its technology, it’s easily within the realms of possibility that it could make production. The fact that the company is road testing it is proof enough of this. The main thing Sony would have to weigh up is whether its technological showcase has enough of a competitive difference to cars like the Lucid Air, Tesla and NIO ET7 to make it worthwhile. Otherwise, we suspect that it will simply concentrate on selling its technology to established manufacturers.