The imminent arrival of the self-driving car seems to be ushering in companies previously involved in completely different fields to motor production such as tech giants Google and Apple. With car tech becoming influenced by computers and electronics is seemingly paving the way for such companies to become involved in the industry.
The lines are being blurred between computer, smart device, and car â€“ and so, as a result, are the lines between the companies involved in this sector.
Japanese electronics giant Sony is the latest company to show interest and take steps to carve out a presence in the automotive industry. That said, it probably wonâ€™t be as a motor brand – itâ€™s unlikely weâ€™ll see a Sony roadster cruising down the road in the near future or a teen gleefully pulling the L-plates from their Sony runaround having just passed their driving test and being in need of a motor to show off their new-found driving skills.
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What will Sony offer?
It already has a toe-hold in the automotive marketplace through tie-ups with manufacturers such as Ford as suppliers of ICE (in-car entertainment systems).
Although its dominance in certain domestic markets such as portable music players has waned over the years, they are very strong in the sensor arena – they currently supply some 40% of the worldâ€™s CMOS sensors including those used in the Apple iPhone. Itâ€™s here where Sony is aiming to make its mark initially.
Sensor use in cars has increased and is set to increase further. With the advent of parking assistance and sensors to help monitor driver alertness behind the wheel, demand is already soaring and will increase further as driver-less car tech becomes more widespread. By definition, the more a car does things for itself, the more sensors are required in its manufacture.
A technological tie in
Sony has a two percent stake in Japanese tech firm ZMP and plans to develop self-driving car technologies. Could a full car materialize? Itâ€™s possible as ZMP has developed scaled-down prototypes of toy and golf cart size cars running their Linux-based software platform.
The general view is that these prototypes will likely be used to develop self-driving technologies and imaging systems related to Sonyâ€™s sensor expertise rather than bringing their own branded driverless car to the market. There again, Sonyâ€™s chief executive doesnâ€™t entirely rule out a larger presence in the automotive market.
Not so fanciful
Along with Google and Appleâ€™s foray into the driverless market, itâ€™s worth remembering other new players have muscled in on the motor industry. You only need to look at Tesla, a manufacturer specializing in electric cars only, which has carved out a niche for making a stylish and sporty model. Therefore, while the car market is heavily brand influenced, there is scope for other, newer players.
Other ways Sony can contribute
Sonyâ€™s entertainment consoles are still market leaders, and with the developments regarding in-car entertainment systems, theyâ€™re ideally placed to profit. This is especially true if driverless technology really takes off and people donâ€™t need to devote their time for driving itself and can use infotainment systems more.