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Sony makes a play for edge compute chores with smart sensors

$18bn investment plan also calls for 160 million entertainment customers to become a billion

Sony has detailed plans to expand its sensors business and make it more relevant to edge computing and the internet of things, while also outlining growth plans in gaming, anime, and electric cars.

In an outline [PDF] of a new strategy outlined yesterday in Tokyo, Sony said in the past eight years it has concentrated resources particularly towards CMOS image sensors to secure a dominant position in the imaging applications and sensing market.

Positioning its investment as a contribution to the “evolution of IoT technology,” Sony said:

Sony has developed an edge solution incorporating its CMOS image sensors and is currently conducting verification tests, in areas such as retail. Through distributed data processing incorporating AI, this solution significantly reduces the amount of data produced and power consumed by IoT devices, resulting in a lower impact on the natural environment. The solution also has positive implications for security and privacy.

Sony appears to have identified the problem many IoT vendors have struck, namely that data collected at the edge of a network often needs to travel to the core - a cloud or private data centre - for analysis. That journey is expensive and slow, and complicates the process of using data collected on the edge for near realtime analysis and performance tuning. Plenty of IoT vendors therefore assume a gateway device will do some on-prem processing, if only to sift the data that really needs to get to a more substantial server.

If Sony can pack enough compute power and AI smarts into CMOS sensors that they change that strategy, the company could give the edge compute market quite a shake.

Sony sensors will also ride along in its all-electric prototype sedan, VISION-S. Currently the automobile has 40 sensors in its design to facilitate 360-degree awareness. Last month, Sony and Vodafone Germany started 5G driving tests of the prototype to test low-latency data transmission delays from the vehicle to the cloud and back, a process it wants to minimize if the thing is going to move at any useful speed.

Yesterday the company said:

Sony believes that by contributing to the safety of mobility though its automotive sensing technology, it could help the transportation space evolve into a new field of entertainment.

Sony’s gaming and anime business has also become an important part of their portfolio. It’s “Demon Slayer” anime movie was a hit in both Japan and the US and the company plans to develop a came based on it, complete with movies and and TV shows spun off the game. The company also has a strong subscription program for games, anime and music, and are working on a new VR headset for the PlayStation 5.

Sony said:

In addition to collaboration between its entertainment businesses such as games, pictures and music, and alliances with external partners, Sony also plans to strengthen its initiatives in the service, mobile and social spaces to further expand these communities, and seeks to expand the number of people around the world directly connected to the Sony Group due to their desire to consume entertainment from the current number of approximately 160 million to 1 billion people.

The company will fund the three “strategic efforts” outlined above with an $18bn (two trillion yen) war chest it says is made possible by strong cashflow. ®

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