Something to look forward to: Public places like amusement parks and commercial facilities in Japan are going to get a lot more interesting with the arrival of Sony and Yamaha Motors' SC-1 Sociable Cart. Designed solely to give a new mobility experience, the five-passenger electric vehicle is brimming with technology for providing entertainment through augmented and mixed reality. Interestingly, Sony doesn't plan on selling the cart, which means it's likely going to use it as a technology and content showcase.
With a top speed of 19 kph (~12mph), the SC-1 Sociable Cart isn't going anywhere fast, but then it doesn't need to because that speed is perfectly adequate for socializing. The battery-powered cart hasn't been designed to serve traditional purposes, like a milk float, for example; instead, Sony and Yamaha Motors plan to launch it in fiscal 2019 as a platform for pushing their services, making it more or less of a tech demo on wheels.
"The SC-1 is designed to transform what was a mere means of mobility into an all-new opportunity for entertainment," said Sony in a press release. The company has been working on the vehicle for a few years now. In 2016, it came up with a proof-of-concept prototype and a year later it finished work on the "SC-1 New Concept Cart" prototype.
Last year, Sony tested the cart in the Kanucha golf course in Okinawa, Japan, where people were treated to a Moonlight Cruise: a limited-time experience service where customers were able to enjoy video and audio entertainment powered by augmented reality (AR) projected against the backdrop of night scenes.
The cart announced today "was jointly developed with Yamaha Motor based on the knowhow and feedback accumulated via Moonlight Cruise and various other driving tests," says Sony, where it made several improvements to the SC-1 such as increasing passenger capacity from three to five, adding more run time with its replaceable batteries, using additional image sensors to broaden its front and rear scope, and optimizing the underpinnings of the cart for a more comfortable ride.
Since the SC-1 doesn't need a conventional human driver, it's got plenty of ultra-high sensitivity sensors and cameras on board that read its surroundings for mobility. These include five 35 mm full-size Sony Exmor CMOS sensors and two cameras with Sony's ISX019 1/3.8-type CMOS image sensors. Combined with the high-resolution displays in the cart, passengers can have night-time visibility of their surroundings without needing any headlights.
But who controls the cart? That'll be the on-board passengers, most likely through the use of gestures or voice commands and, ahem, remote operation by "someone viewing the images via the cloud."
Something else that the SC-1 doesn't have are windows. These have been replaced by the aforementioned displays, which amount to four outward facing 55-inch 4K LCD monitors for entertaining people outside and a single 49-inch 4K screen for those sitting inside. The cart will use its image sensors with artificial intelligence to determine things like age, gender etc. of people outside the cart and stream ads and content to the high-res displays accordingly.
Sony says the cart "incorporates mixed reality (MR) technology...that can superimpose computer graphics onto the surroundings being displayed on the monitor. This turns the area that used to be taken up by windows, where passengers could only see the scenery, into an entertainment area, thereby enabling a more enjoyable mobility experience."
There's also a 2D LiDAR system and ultrasonic sensors on-board that optimize the driving experience by sending data to the cloud for deep learning while the use of edge computing to process data locally is meant to ensure a safer travel experience.
Although there's no word yet on global availability or the US market, it would be nice to have another one of Sony's unique creations for a broader audience to enjoy.