Saved by Sensors, Sony Aims to Increase Their Use in Robotics, Self-Driving Vehicles




Sony Corp is poised to report its optimum-ever profit this 12 months on strong gross sales of picture sensors following decades of dropping floor in consumer electronics and hopes to establish the technological innovation for use in robotics and self-driving cars and trucks as levels of competition heats up.

The benefits will mark a sizeable turnaround for the conglomerate, once famed for major the entire world in shopper devices such as its Walkman music player, but now discovering a new concentrate on picture sensors and gaming.

Sony forecasts that functioning earnings in the yr via March will a lot more than double to JPY 630 billion ($5.6 billion) in comparison with the calendar year before and expects the chips division, most of which is produced up of the image sensors business, to be the conglomerate’s largest expansion driver.

Executives say a technological breakthrough in image sensors and seachange in the firm’s considering are at the rear of the achievement. The breakthrough, making a sensor that captures extra mild to create sharper visuals, coincided with soaring consumer demand from customers for much better smartphone cameras for sharing images on social media.

The breakthrough, which included reconfiguring the sensor structure and known as backside illumination, permitted Sony to grab approximately 50 percent of the industry for picture sensors.

“We knew we would not be in a position to earn if we did what our rivals were carrying out,” said Teruo Hirayama, technologies chief of Sony’s chip organization, recalling preliminary scepticism all around the technological know-how that is now employed widely.

Japanese names these kinds of as Hitachi Ltd, NEC Corp and Fujitsu Ltd, which dominated mainstream chips via the late 1980s, have misplaced business enterprise to Asian rivals these kinds of as Samsung Electronics.

Sony’s success “is really a perform of possessing made a decision a lengthy time back to focus on that specialized niche within just semiconductors,” says Andrew Daniels, a Tokyo-based mostly running director at Indus Cash, an investment administration organization. He declined to say irrespective of whether his fund owns Sony shares.

“The procedure technologies is extremely significantly that kind of ‘takumi-no-waza’,” he explained, utilizing a Japanese phrase for the pursuit of production perfection.

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The sensor enterprise was also helped by getting an “outsider” inside of the firm. By promoting to providers outside Sony, it was insulated from declining product sales of the firm’s individual smartphones and other client electronics.

The sensors, for illustration, were initial sold to All Nippon Airways, which utilised them to broadcast views from the cockpit to travellers.

“Sony used to be obsessed with the strategy that its systems should really be held within just the team for use only in its personal solutions,” stated Atsushi Osanai, professor at Waseda University’s small business college. “Offering factors outside the house the business was out of line with Sony’s classic small business design.”

The sensor business enterprise also received a enhance from a shake-up initiated by Chief Government Kazuo Hirai, who called for every division to be much more independent and financially rewarding on its personal.

“It was a fantastic aid for us to be explained to that we should run independently,” Terushi Shimizu, the chief of Sony’s chip division, said, “alternatively than just belong to Sony.”

But the firm is now bracing for intensifying competition in sensors as rivals, these kinds of as Samsung and OmniVision Systems, stage up their sport, and is developing new sensor systems for use in robotics and self-driving automobiles.

Investors say Sony nonetheless has a technological edge that will take time for others to replicate.

“Sony has been attempting to be in advance, but could confront a turning position in a 12 months or two,” said Kun Soo Lee, senior principal analyst with IHS Markit in Tokyo.

It is producing sensor technologies that can rapidly measure distances or detect invisible light-weight that are envisioned to be made use of in autonomous driving, manufacturing unit automation and robotics, they stated.

“Time-of-flight” sensors, for illustration, compute distances by measuring the time it requires for light-weight to mirror from an object and could be utilised in drones or robotics for gesture and item recognition.

“It really is obvious that we are currently dependent on the smartphone industry,” Shimizu, the chip business main mentioned. “The market’s shift to dual-lens cameras from solitary-lens is fantastic for us, but how very long is this likely to final as the market is only escalating 1 or 2 percent?”

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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