One of the biggest surprises of CES 2020 was Sony unveiling an electric concept car in a mic drop power move.
Before you get too excited, the Vision-S will never go into production. And yet, Sony still took concept to the next level by making it a fully funtional vehicle. And the amount of tech injected puts Tesla to shame.
Elon can keep his cowbell and fart Easter Eggs – I’ll take the 360 degree audio setup.
The first thing you notice when you slide into the Vision-S is the abundance of screens. From the dash to the backseat, it’s immediately evident that this is an mobile entertainment unit.
Sony has taken full advantage of its sound and TV manufacturing experience (not to mention its abundance of music and film IP) to create a space where the journey is perhaps more important than the destination.
This begins with the dashboard, which is one large screen divided into sections. This allows it to display multiple apps at once, such as a map, music or streaming service.
Considering how boring it is to juice up at a public charging station, the ability to watch a movie on a decent sized screen is incredibly cool.
The apps can be moved to a different dash location with a simple swipe. Let’s say you’re looking for a burger place but also need to drive, you can shoot the map over to the passenger’s side of the console so they can set up navigation. They can then swipe it back over to you for a clearer visual of the route.
It’s slick as hell, but the real argument for this functionality is safety. Having such a customisable environment that allows the passenger to easily handle the mapping, climate control and entertainment is fantastic.
If we follow the Vision-S safety thread, we find ourselves at the car’s mirrors. Or rather, a lack thereof.
Sony replaced the rear view and side mirrors with sensors (image, radars and ultrasonics) as well as cameras, citing their superiority and ability to increase the brightness and contrast.
“Our seamless image sensor technology actually allows us to capture more detailed information, especially in low-light conditions where the human eye can’t normally see,” said a Sony representative.
The car also contains a front camera that can be toggled to display on the dash. This can be used to record your trip, which can be overlayed with music. The argument for this inclusion is the ability for the driver to actually enjoy the scenery safely later, as opposed to not paying attention to the road during the ride.
I can see this being wildly popular with influencers and content creators.
Backseat passengers are also treated to their own personal screens that are able to play different content to the front seats.
Over in the back, the middle seat has been replaced by a giant knob. Backseat passengers also receive personalised climate controls and their owns screens
There will most probably be some sound bleed, but Sony attempts to counter this by injecting speakers into the front head rests, as well as various points within the cabin.
This creates a 360 degree sound environment that, to use the scientific phrase, ‘slaps’.
While this extremely professional iPhone video doesn’t accurately depict the nuance of sound that 360 audio provides, you can still tell the difference.
In the flesh, the experience is surreal. Feeling the instruments graze my ears as they swept out of the seat speakers to join the melody swelling from the console was nothing short of sublime.
This auditory experience took me from being impressed by the Vision-S to utterly enchanted.
Much like love at first site, I found my love for the Tesla Model S fading. It seems there is only one place in my heart for a shit-hot EV, and the Vision-S claimed the spot.
But much like some of the men I had fallen for in the past, Sony’s offering is unobtainable, thus fuelling my passion all the further.
Despite bothering to build a working EV that can hit almost 240km and go from 0 to 96km/h in about 4.5 seconds – Sony’s car will never hit the market. But the heart often wants what it can’t have. I need to make peace with that.
At the end of the all-too-brief demonstration, another journalist enquired as to whether Sony had considered autonomous driving for its concept vehicle. It was a fair question, but I immediately found myself baulking at the idea.
While entertainment and safety at the forefront of the design, the Vision-S still manages to invoke a traditional sense of automotive pride. It’s the kind of car that is begging to be driven.
I want to be in control of this beautiful beast, not out of distrust for autonomous vehicles, but from a desire to experience everything it has to offer.
The Vision-S is the pinnacle of CES tech – it offers a glimpse into the future that’s worth getting excited for. It was exhilarating, and yet when I walked away I was left in a state of lamentation.
I fell hard for this thing and I hope the vast majority of its design and functionality finds its way into other electric vehicles in the next few years.
Until then, I will crave the opportunity to sit behind the wheel, crank the 360 degree sound and relish the smooth ride and quiet motor. It doesn’t need to obnoxiously announce its presence. Everything else about this car roars loudly enough already.
The author attended CES on a scholarship from the Consumer Technology Association.