Sony’s Next Project: Making Drones

23 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Sony Is Getting Into the Drone Business.

Sony is planning to get into the drone business, with the launch of a new company that will capture images and other data for business purposes using unmanned aerial vehicles.Sony said Wednesday it plans to create a drone company called Aerosense in a joint venture with Tokyo startup ZMP Inc., which specializes in autopilot technology.Sony’s smartphone division will partner with fellow Japanese company ZMP Inc. — which develops autopilot technology — to establish Aerosense, which will provide drone services to businesses beginning next year. Aerosense will offer services such as inspecting aged infrastructure and surveying land that is difficult for people to access. “We’re looking to explore new opportunities beyond our core consumer portfolio in enterprise markets,” said Hiroki Totoki, head of Sony’s smartphone unit, which is providing resources for the drone venture. “The key to driving growth in these areas will be adapting Sony’s innovation in various technologies,” including cameras and sensors, he said.

The partnership will combine Sony’s camera, sensing, telecommunications network and robotics technologies with ZMP’s automated driving and robotics technologies. It won’t sell drones, but instead will use them to capture images from the skies which — when combined with cloud-based data processing — will provide a range of services and data to help with tasks like measurement, surveying, observation and inspection. This profitable division of the company supplies components to a wide range of industries including, notably, the smartphone market, where Sony’s own devices have failed, but its sensors are used by rivals including Apple and Samsung. Called Aerosense, this new company will open new doors to Sony Mobile who is exploring new markets for its technology — most notable its imaging sensors. Starting a drone subsidiary to demonstrate new uses for its imaging tech makes more sense for Sony than trying to compete directly with well-established industry giants like Lockheed Martin or DJI.

The news comes as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which looks after airspace safety in the UK, launches a new drone awareness initiative, to encourage owners of unmanned aerial vehicles to operate them safely. Tech giants like Google and Amazon are also involved in the market, and have been pouring money and expertise into various fields from package delivery to internet access. Competitors to Sony’s drone business in Japan include Yamaha Motor Co. 7272 -2.56 % , which has long sold autonomously piloted helicopters for agricultural and other purposes. It pointed to the rules governing use of drones, known as the “dronecode”, which include flying the aircraft “within sight” and at a maximum height of 400ft high, and keeping it away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields. “Interest in drones has developed rapidly in the last couple of years and our main concern is to ensure owners of drones can enjoy this rapidly growing technology safely and have regard for all other airspace users when doing so,” said Tim Johnson, CAA Director of Policy. “Our cross-industry initiative launched today, sets out the simple rules that all drone users should follow to ensure they comply with the law and support the safety of all airspace. A startup based at Chiba University, Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory Ltd., has been making drones to inspect infrastructure including nuclear reactors in Fukushima damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

If they do this they can avoid prosecution and a possible jail term or fine.” The initiative follows a number of recent incidents involving drones and various aircraft. Aerosense is the latest effort by Sony to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit among its engineers after the company went through cutbacks and years of losses.

Attendees to January’s CES in Las Vegas got a look at just how popular drones are becoming—from wrist-worn flying devices to tank-sized models for military use. The CAA said the majority of incidents are due to drone users flying the devices well above drone height limits, with some reported as high as 2,000ft from ground level and in areas where large aircraft are present. DJI, the multi-billion dollar Chinese company best known for its range of consumer drones, recently opened its platform to third-parties to bring benefits to businesses.

Andy Pan, the VP who runs DJI’s platform, is particularly bullish about the opportunities that lie ahead. “We previously said the sky’s the limit, but now we believe that the sky is no longer the limit,” Pan told me on stage at our recent event in Shanghai. At this point, commercial drone use is restricted in the U.S., but the FAA has been working on new regulations that will allow their use for things like package delivery via Amazon.

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