[Series]Munechika Nishida’s Next Gate Part 23
“I have to think about what to do in an era when I don’t have to drive a car.” Izumi Kawanishi, President and COO of Sony-Honda Mobility, a joint venture between Sony and Honda, announced the direction of the company’s EV (electric vehicle) “AFEELA” at the venue of “CES 2023” held in Las Vegas, USA. About, I answered yes.
What kind of EV will it be for the era of “no driving”? This time, I was able to experience the AFEELA prototype exhibited at the Sony booth at CES, so I would like to think about such points.
AFEELA is “smartphone design”
First, let’s take a look at AFEELA’s exterior. The front and rear displays stand out, but otherwise it’s surprisingly simple.
Compared to the prototype EV “VISION-S” that Sony independently unveiled at CES 2020 just three years ago, AFEELA has very few lines.
There seems to be pros and cons to the AFEELA design itself. However, it is said that Sony and Honda put a lot of thought into this. That is, “The change from an internal combustion engine to an EV is similar to the change from a feature phone to a smartphone.”
In the days of feature phones (garakei), the design of mobile phones was complicated. On the other hand, when it comes to smartphones, the design is suddenly simplified and converges on the “board”.
Of course there will be good and bad there. However, what is important is that “the point of differentiation has changed from mechanical to software.” The added value is shifted to the software part that runs inside the screen, not the screen itself. Software has changed to a state where there is more room for evolution than hardware-like sliding mechanisms and buttons.
This is the same for automobiles, and by becoming an EV, the areas that can be changed by software will clearly increase. If that is the case, then the design will become simpler as well.
Autonomous EVs using sensors
“I see, so there are so many screens.” Looking at AFEELA, you might think that way.
There are animated displays on the front and rear exterior, and the control panel inside the car is also a huge display. You might get the impression that it’s not a mechanical car but a soft one, a car that makes a statement on the screen.
It’s certainly not wrong, but it’s also straying from the essence. What they emphasize here is not “there is a screen”. What is displayed on the screen is the result of “interlocking with sensors” and “free customization”.
The front and rear display “media bars” are “made to demonstrate the autonomous behavior” of AFEELA, explains a Sony-Honda representative.
When AFEELA is just stopped, nothing appears in the media bar. But when a person approaches, it recognizes it and starts displaying an animation. If it is raining at your destination, it will give you a rain warning, and if it is stopped at a paid parking lot, it will give you “How many more minutes can you use here?” In some cases, it may also display coupons that can be used nearby.
EVs are equipped with numerous sensors to ensure safety and autonomous driving. It’s a waste to use it purely for self-driving. By using it for interaction with people, there is a possibility that EVs can be handled like “robots with autonomy”.
In fact, AFEELA doors don’t have “knobs”. However, the door opens when the sensor recognizes the driver’s face.
In that way, AFEELA aims to become an EV that uses sensors vertically and horizontally, and the display is used as one of its “expressions”.
In fact, smartphones have something similar. The motion sensor of the smartphone was originally installed so that it can be seen easily even if the screen is rotated. Over time, however, there were games that were played by moving smartphones, and cases where the number of steps was measured based on vibration trends and used for health.
Sony Honda would like to aim for such a change with EV.
What happened with the smartphone app can also be applied to EVs
The same is true in the car. Simply put, “apps” are running on the giant screen. You can freely change the position where the video is played on the display in the car, just like moving the window position of the video on a tablet.
The color and taste of the window is just like changing the “skin” of your smartphone. You can even change everything from standard colors to a “Spider-Man” taste at once.
Furthermore, it is also possible to enjoy “remote play”, which allows you to play PlayStation 5 at home via communication, from inside the car. All of this is easier to understand if you think of it as an app running on a car screen.
In fact, AFEELA’s in-car experience features are based on Android Automotive OS, which is Android for cars. Therefore, if you customize the existing Android application, it is not difficult to operate it in the car.
However, this does not mean that I want to say that “the same application as the smartphone runs”. The key is that “we are able to leverage the very popular Android app development method to provide functionality for cars.”
EV changes with software. If that is the case, it is necessary to prepare an environment that makes it easy to create software, and to prepare so that non-automakers can “provide added value in automobiles.”
This is also similar to the fact that “adding apps” was rare in the era of feature phones, but in the era of smartphones, “replacement and customization of applications” has become commonplace.
Looking for a partner for the era of “cars that don’t drive”
As a result, the inside of the EV becomes a fairly rich AV environment. You can enjoy movies, you can enjoy music, you can even play games. Video conferencing is fine.
Even with the current EV, there are quite a few people who “spend more time in the car.” If you use an EV charging station outside your home, charging will take more than tens of minutes. In the meantime, it seems that there are quite a few people who spend their time relaxing in the car.
If so, it wouldn’t be strange if the idea of ”making EV a personal AV room” came out. Ultimately, instead of “getting away” from home, you can use it when you want to be alone.
And if the ratio of automatic driving increases further, the time “no one is doing driving work” will increase even while running. If so, it is inevitable to utilize apps, utilize software, and strengthen AV functions.
The problem may be that you “don’t know yet” what it takes to spend that time and make it appealing. If entertainment and apps that live only in the car come out, it will become a big industry.
However, the idea is not born only by automakers or entertainment companies like Sony. The vast majority of apps that have emerged from smartphones have mostly come from neither the smartphone makers themselves nor the telecom companies themselves. The purpose of Sony’s exhibition of AFEELA this time is to appeal to such “people who can be partners”.
First of all, AFEELA will be released in 2025. Even though there are still two years to go, there is little meaning in exhibiting an EV that actually works and “exposing your hands”. Of course, there must be a reason for opening the hand, and the author predicts that the reason is “the knowledge of other companies”.
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