Now Sony is getting in on the self driving scene

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Sony is a firm that has lost a lot of traditional ground in the last few years. It might be dominating this generation of home consoles, but it’s no longer the king of TVs and it lost its portable music crown years ago to the iPod. What then, can its future developments focus on? One new area of investment for the Japanese company is automated cars, as it’s recently invested just shy of a million dollars to acquire two per cent of Japanese startup and robot car maker, ZMP.

Together, the two companies hope to help develop automated cars, much like Baidu and BMW have set as their mission goal. However, those two firms have two very exciting technologies to bring together: BMW’s automotive manufacturing pedigree and Baidu’s satellite imagery and strong connected backbone. In comparison, Sony brings something very different to the table: high quality imaging sensors.

While Sony may have lost ground in a lot of technological fields, it still holds a top spot as one of the world’s best camera sensor makers and with connected, driverless cars of the future expected to have upwards of 10 different cameras and sensors running on the car at all times, Sony could provide SMP with that at a decent price. On top of that, together the companies could develop imaging sensors specifically designed for automated cars, creating a lucrative new business for Sony in the future.

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However, some industry analysts believe that Sony’s technology won’t transfer over to driverless cars quite as well as it expects. As it stands, while Sony may produce some 40 percent of the world’s CMOS sensors for phones like Apple’s iPhone, it only holds a five per cent stake in the connected car sensor market – the one that it hopes to thrive in.

“The concern is how Sony is going to make up for the time lag,” said IHS analyst Kun Soo Lee said (via FT). “The automotive supply chain is unique and it’s a world where the track record means a lot.”

Sony however, while willing to acknowledge that it is a little behind other sensor makers, said that the same was the case with the smartphone industry and it ended up dominating there. “Now we can do the same automotive cameras,” said the company’s GM of the automotive department, Shoichi Kitayama.

Time will tell whether Sony can use its small take in ZMP to help catapult its imaging sensors into a wider market and steal some of the emerging share from the more established names in the industry.

Another potential avenue for Sony to enter the connected car market would be to bring its gaming software to bear. With less time spent looking at the road with more automated vehicles, people will need entertainment and that’s where the company’s history of console and portable gaming developments could really come into play.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.