AsiaIndustrial NetNews: Sony’s story originated from a small electronics store in a Tokyo department store in 1946, and then exploded into the world’s most comprehensive entertainment company. In 2012, Hirai took over the leadership of Sony Group from Howard Stringer.
Sony has a huge business, including movie studios, film production companies, a music record empire, and the PlayStation game brand. It also owns a wide range of electronic products and manufactures consumer electronics such as semiconductors, cameras and image sensors, and televisions. It also operates a financial services business.
Sony once became a popular Robot dog with its Aibo artificial intelligence Robot dog, which was launched in 1999.Robotpioneer in the field, but abandoned the robotics market in 2006, a move that led to an outflow of related expertise.
▲The Sony Aibo pet robot, Macaron (left), and Latte (right), taken in 2001, looks like a dog and a bear.
With more complex artificial intelligence and machine learning functions on the agenda again, Sony CEO and President Kazuo Hirai decided to collaborate with Cogitai, an American start-up company, instead of relying solely on internal staff.
“They (Cogitai) are able to give us some great insights and advice on how to go into the whole AI space,” he said. This kind of collaboration ensures that we can get effective advice from the outside world instead of starting everything from scratch, which is exactly what It’s the way we used to do things at Sony.
But some roboticists who have left are returning, he said. “A lot of them have actually come back, (saying) ‘let me tell you what I know’. We’ve also recruited some good people out there.”
Hirai said Sony has set up an innovation fund of 10 billion yen ($120 million) for new technologies. “This is an area where we need to go out and acquire, and[we]will definitely get to that point and move away from the Sony way of doing it, which is to rely on internal forces behind closed doors,” he said.
So what does artificial intelligence look like on the agenda? There were reports last year that Sony was developing robots that could connect emotionally with humans. Mr. Hirai elaborated on Sony’s vision to “move people emotionally through products and content so that they see Sony as a creative and technological trendsetter.”
But pet robots are just the tip of the iceberg in Sony’s AI agenda, and Hirai plans to fully implement a package of AI across multiple business areas of the company.
What kind of products can Sony produce? I asked him if we could one day see a tape recorder spit out written text? Say the desired parameter settings to the camera, and the camera can automatically record and archive, or can Auto-editing of photos people take? “You’re going to be out of a job when auto-editing cameras come out,” he says.
“I’m not an engineer, but as far as I know, most of the ideas you just mentioned are things that we can prototype right now. But how to make something affordable, reliable, and what consumers really want Product, that’s a problem. Sony has a lot of different R&D and I’ve come across a lot of outlandish ideas, and we never set a threshold for creativity.”
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As we all know, Sony is working on drones. In 2015, reached a strategic partnership with Japan’s ZMP company to establish Aerosense company to manufacture commercial drones. Aerosense has released a video of the drone prototype flying.
He said the joint venture is developing and manufacturing drones whose applications go far beyond the traditional functions of geological surveys.
Then there’s the PlayStation. The success of this gaming platform hinges on the pivotal role Hirai once played. Before serving as president of the entire Sony Group, he served as president of Sony Interactive Entertainment and its U.S. companies.
Sony has entered the field of virtual reality gaming with the launch of PlayStation VR last year. “The market response to PSVR has clearly met and exceeded our expectations,” Hirai said.
But there are still some problems with shipping. “However, we have not been able to secure sufficient spot availability in many markets around the world, but are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.”
As of late February, Sony had shipped nearly 920,000 PlayStation VR devices, Hirai said.
“The huge potential for VR goes well beyond gaming,” he said. “Sony Music and Sony Pictures are already producing linear content for VR. But I think for VR, outside of entertainment, there’s a huge B2B ( Inter-enterprise business) market application. For example, when a travel agency shows guests a travel destination, in addition to letting them go to experience it, they can experience it in VR first.
On the VR side, we need to move slowly, and the first priority is to establish VR as a technology, and this can be achieved through video games, and this is where we are currently working because we think this is the area where VR linear content has potential.
Of course, Sony isn’t the only one making virtual reality (VR) games. Later this year, Sony will have a new competition with Microsoft’s accelerated game control platform and its mixed reality (MR) experience. Currently in this market, Sony is still in a leading position, but still need to consider the next step of development.
TV is another major business of Sony. This year, Sony has developed a huge canvas-like LED Display (called “Black Crystal”) composed of individual LED modules, and the connection of the LED modules cannot be distinguished by the naked eye. place. Then there’s Sony’s 4K OLED TV, the A1. Its display vibrates to produce sound, eliminating the need for speakers.
What sets Sony apart from other TV manufacturers is that it has Sony Pictures, which produces 4K HDR content and supports 4K playback. “We create 4K content, and 4K HDR is clearly a big priority for the industry right now.”
Hirai believes that streaming is the future of media communication. So before streaming media becomes mainstream, isn’t the newly developed high-density Blu-ray disc a product in the transitional stage and will inevitably be eliminated?
“I think what you just mentioned will eventually become a reality. But we hope that people can enjoy the wonderful content from the world in places where broadband is not necessarily available or the speed is not fast enough.
But there are challenges along the way. Sony announced in January that it had taken a large $960 million write-down on goodwill due to problems with the company’s film division.
In addition, there are films such as “Ghostbusters” and “Dante Code” that have not been satisfactory.
“We just haven’t produced cutting-edge titles (in terms of filmmaking), the kind that will have an impact on the downstream direction of the home entertainment industry as well,” Hirai said.
“That’s why we hired Tom Rothman to run our film business. He’s really done a great job approving new projects, new films, and he’s focused on three things.”
“The first is to control costs, the second is to pay more attention to the blockbuster works already in hand, and the third is to have stronger international appeal for our films, especially in the Chinese market.”
In addition, Sony’s TV business has also suffered losses for 10 consecutive years, and the company’s mobile business also recorded a goodwill impairment of 180 billion yen in 2014.
In June last year, Hirai said that Sony’s consumer electronics business would be profitable in fiscal 2016, which ends in March 2017. Once the data is released, we will clarify the situation as soon as possible.
Hirai is looking forward to greater profits this year, but that hope was affected by the Kumamoto earthquake last April, which forced Sony to delay the manufacture of image sensors and cameras. However, forecast data for the fiscal year ended last month showed that Sony’s operating profit is expected to return to the level of nearly 300 billion yen in the same period last year. This year, he is trying to make profits exceed 500 billion yen.
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